Long live work-life balance

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Commentary: As the holidays approach and thoughts turn to spending more time with family and friends, and perhaps less time focused on work, it seems appropriate to discuss work-life balance, or maybe the perceived lack thereof.

Google “work-life balance is dead” and you’ll find many interesting headlines: “Work-life balance is dead: Why that’s a good thing,” from Forbes, “Work-Life Balance is Dead,” in Psychology Today, and even “Five Charts That Show Work-Life Balance is Dead,” from Bloomberg.

If we accept the notion that work-life balance is dead, how do we explain the growing demand for flexibility?

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Seventy-four percent of employees want flexible hours, according to research from Quantum Workplace, but only 46% of employers provide them. And it’s worth noting that those employees who get flexible hours are 18% more engaged in the work than those who don’t.

And flexible work schedules were cited as one of the top three benefits Americans would most like to receive from their employers, according to a recent survey by MassMutual, coming after more vacation (No. 1) and better 401(k) matches (No. 2).

Moreover, if work-life balance is dead, how are employers expected to promote it as a benefit?

“So many companies are still at that stage where they recognize that they should do it, that their employees are demanding that they have that flexibility, but there's still the guilt and kind of unwritten rules that it's actually not what you're supposed to do,” says Dr. Laura Hamill, chief people officer at Limeade, adding she believes that what has changed is the “very measurable, transactional way of thinking about work-life balance.” In other words, what’s dead is the notion that work-life balance means a certain number of hours spent at the office and a certain number of hours at home.

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Forty-two percent of people say they take care of personal or family needs during work and 48% say they respond to work-related communications during personal time, according to an American Psychological Association survey. And although technology has blurred the line between work and home, the majority of U.S. workers say they control the boundaries between their work and personal life (71%) and decide whether they keep them separate (74%).

Work-life balance isn’t dead. The way we talk about it might be. But it’s a benefit needed now more than ever and one that employers can’t afford to ignore.

What do you think? Is work-life balance dead? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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