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Where's the tipping point?
Work/life balance was a bit of a “buzzword” for several years. People who routinely worked 60-70 hour weeks would say to new employees that the company “valued” work/life balance.
But it’s far more central today, probably thanks to two major factors—the large number of Millennials in the work force and the realities imposed by the Covid pandemic.
Millennials came in (as a large, large group) with a sense of their own worth. They were not programed to be faceless cogs in a machine—they wanted their lives to be more than endless hours in a cubicle awash in unflattering fluorescent light. They wanted meaning and purpose, and life outside of work, and MORE than just climbing the professional ladder. And after talking about "the importance of work/life balance” for years, established professionals realized that actually had to MEAN it… at least if they wanted to retain their people.
So, while it is still a work-in-progress, a real priority for work/life balance has become more accepted and included in many corporate cultures.
Then the pandemic put work/life balance under a whole new lens. Working from home shifted that balance point—some people found it worked even better, since they got all that time that used to be eaten by a daily commute. Others found that, since they never left the office, it was hard to separate their work and non-work lives and focus on just one at a time. And parents had the added complexity of finding the balance between childcare and work time, often in the push-pull negotiation with a spouse or partner trying to do the same.
As more companies are bringing people back into the offices in what we all hope will be a “return to normal”—or at least the establishment of the new normal—we have the opportunity for a reset.
Consider what was good about your corporate culture before the pandemic. Put that into words—write it down and remember the good. Make efforts to re-establish that good stuff.
Consider what had “room for improvement” in your corporate culture. Write down those points. Think about how to avoid a repeat of the “less good” stuff—is there a better way? If people are still in flux as they come back, it might be a good time to make those changes, before people get back into the ruts and old habits.
And keep more than your own preferences in mind. Many established professionals have said that they want to be in the office full-time, and they want their people in the office full-time. But if you insist on this with people who can’t (“I still don’t have childcare!”) or won’t (“Life’s too short to spend 10 hours a week—that’s 500 hours a year!—in my car, wasting gas, going to a place where I am less productive than I am in my home office”) come back full-time, you may find that you lose them to the competition. Because a company that offers people want they really want and/or need will be the employer of choice.
What can you do to maximize your own status as an “employer of choice?”