For years, the mandates for more work-life flexibility were directed at organizations and management, but workplace and academic experts say the boss or company are no longer the ones to solely blame for flexibility failure. However, two workplace experts now say the challenge is for employees to focus less on sweeping transformative change and instead make small, everyday shifts in work style.
"We've spent nearly the last two decades calling out the companies and management for the need for work life flexibility. Many have responded, but now employees also need to step up and assert control by making small, subtle, practical choices that no one will notice but them," says Cali Williams Yost, author of the new book “Tweak It: Make What Matters To You Happen Every Day.”
Waaaaait a minute. What about employees who work within a culture that penalizes them for taking advantage of work-life benefits, or at a company that revokes said benefits altogether? You’re telling me that if they struggle with work-life balance, it’s their fault? That they need to just “step up” and make it work? I’m as big a fan of Tim Gunn as anyone, but that sounds a bit like blaming the victim.
Yet, Brad Harrington, Ph.D., executive director of the Boston College Center for Work and Family, agrees with Yost. "For over 20 years, our center has stressed the importance of organizational culture, the right types of management support, and the most effective human resource policies and programs needed to facilitate work-life fit,” he says. “But I have always stressed my belief that ultimately it is the individual who must solve this problem, must determine their fit, and must manage the process of achieving it."
But according to research Yost conducted with ORC International nearly 75% of employees believe that work-life flexibility is only possible if their employer and/or boss provide it.
Yost and Harrington argue that while the workplace has become more supportive — offering flexibility programs and policies that help employees manage life's major transitions such as parenthood and illness — for many, it's unrealistic to regularly work from home, have a compressed or reduced schedule, or take advantage of some other formal flexibility offering. Even so, they say, that doesn't mean work-life balance has to be a lost cause.
"Major life events matter," Yost says, "but it's the everyday routine we crave and where employees struggle the most with managing work-life fit. We can't wait for HR or the boss to solve this conflict for us. Employees themselves need to manage work-life as a daily practice. And while it may be counterintuitive, it starts by thinking small.”
She encourages employees to “make small, consistent changes in how, when and where they manage their work and their lives … taking granular deliberate actions that over time build the foundation for a successful work-life fit that collectively transforms their performance on and off the job.”
What do you think? Are mere “tweaks” enough to truly achieve work-life balance, as Yost and Harrington suggest? Do you agree employees themselves have a bigger role to play in gaining balance? Do employers need to do more as well? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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