In an interview a few years ago, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg acknowledged a truth we’d all been whispering but refused to admit aloud: “So there’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s work, and there’s life, and there’s no balance.”
There’s no question that the traditional notion of work-life balance has all but evaporated. The proliferation of mobile devices, the rapid advance of technology, and the rise of social media have forever altered how we live and work. While providing more freedom and flexibility in how, when, and where we work, these advances are also blurring the lines between our personal and work lives.
We all have a mental picture of what work-life balance might look like — leaving the office at 5 p.m.; shutting down all laptops, screens and phones after dinner; spending time reading a book for an hour each night; exercising; spending time with friends or engaging in hobbies; being truly present at work and at home; waking up early to make a healthy breakfast; knowing your job will get done in the time allotted each day, stress free.
The reality for most, however, is this picture of work-life balance is elusive. People want to feel successful in their work and personal lives. We want to believe life can be simpler, less stressful, more balanced and relaxing. At the same time, we want to contribute fully to work and have meaningful careers.
The great news is we can have it both ways. The key to achieving a more fulfilling existence personally and professionally requires an acceptance that work and personal life will continue to blur, that finding gratification in a busy job and a rich personal life is not about creating walls between them, but proactively, productively and successfully allowing them to integrate.
We’re all in the process of adjusting the way we work. The economic downturn, combined with the rapid evolution of workplace, personal and social technology, creates jobs that are more demanding, require near-constant attention, and lie quite literally in the palm of our hand; our to-do list is never further than our cell phone.
Of course employees are stressed out, but instead of viewing this new level of accessibility as an interference with extracurricular life, employees and employers need to view it as a new pathway, one that works both ways. For successful work-life integration we simply can’t bring work into the home. We also need to also carry personal goals, challenges, passions and priorities into the workplace.
Holistic workplace wellbeing programs offer a unique and unparalleled opportunity to bring individual goals and projects into the office, providing productive, positive ways for employees to approach their work-life challenges with the support of colleagues, mentors, friends and technology. Many of us are familiar with wellness programs — weight loss, personal coaching, disease management —and these programs have proven successful for many. However, holistic workplace wellbeing goes well beyond traditional wellness interventions to provide meaningful tools and programs that employees can apply to the achievement of their personal goals.
For example, financial well-being programs support employees in achieving personal finance milestones, such as planning for retirement or saving for a child’s education. Other programs focus on resilience training, which help employees manage stress and anxiety in and out of the workplace. These programs tend to have a positive multiplier effect, impacting employees not only at work but also in their personal relationships and family dynamics.
For many, programs that help employees stay physically active throughout the day have been a huge step in successfully integrating work and life; encouraging employees to step away from their desks, clear their heads, and take a walk has been shown to have a positive impact on productivity, creativity and employee engagement. Technology-enabled solutions, from wearable devices to mobile apps that engage employees regularly in their health and well-being, are becoming must-haves as employers recognize the strong relationship between employee health and business performance.
As workplace well-being continues to evolve and expand, employers must be thoughtful and authentic in how they support it: this is not merely the benefit du jour or a response to a demanding millennial workforce obsessed with yoga.
Instead, holistic workplace well-being programs help workers navigate the transition between their jobs and their homes more successfully. Our work and personal lives comprise two sides of the same coin — a day-to-day existence that can be happy, healthy, fulfilling and balanced when purposefully integrated.
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