By: Dr Lynne Derman
Monday morning again, and we drag ourselves out of bed feeling like we have not had a weekend at all! Yes, the dinner with friends on Friday was fun, and the sport on Saturday afternoon was nice, but somehow we don’t feel rested!! As societal values change, people have expressed more interest in a balanced work commitment. Millenniums entering the work place demanding a very different environment, places this issue in the spot light once again. However, achieving work and personal life balance is also one of the most difficult challenges in modern life.
Historically, working practices are designed by the organization, indicating a position of authority and power. As organizations respond to global pressure, increasing performance pressures are placed on employees. Companies place high value on their employees’ commitment to their jobs. Sadly commitment has come to be defined by the number of hours an employee devotes to the job.
The social debate around work life balance needs to be couched within the context of social responsibility. Companies seem to be paying more attention to the question of sustainable development. In the same manner, attention to social responsibility, include responsibility towards employees, also needs to increase.
The purpose of a career is to provide for more than just an adequate lifestyle; a career also needs to be meaningful and provide a sense of satisfaction. Victor Frankl highlighted the fact that it is not sufficient to have a job, people need to do meaningful work. Ineffective job design, overburdening employees and the lack of work life balance leads to high levels of anxiety. The experience of anxiety reduces the individual’s capacity to respond rationally to a situation. We know that stress results in lower productivity, absenteeism from work due to ill health, and in general a sense of loss of control by employees. This raises concern not only about other areas of life that are crowded out, but also concern for sustainability of human resources, the retention of valuable skills and continuity, all of which are requisite for growth.
When looking at work life balance, the approach needs to be broader in that it affects society as a whole. A change in one aspect of life will impact on all other aspects. For example in some countries such as Germany the emphasis has been on work rather than family. The result has been a negative population growth rate since the late 70’s with the resultant economic impact of an aging populace. The issue of work life balance therefore needs to be seen holistically, from the perspectives of the employee, the employer and wider society.
Not all efforts to deal with work life balance have made much difference or had lasting effects to date. However, attempts to address workplace norms that focus on work and life balance while at the same time taking into consideration organisational performance seem more promising. An approach that recognises the individual as a whole person with physical, emotional, spiritual and cognitive needs is required. Only when all these elements receive equal attention or are balanced, can there be any personal coherence. For as long as workplaces continue to fragment individuals, sustainable change in terms of work life balance remains challenging.