Work-Life Balance has been a much debated conversation in the business world for years. As employees and the general population have become more connected to each other with the use of technology, social media and mobile devices, it has become increasingly difficult for many people to separate work from their personal lives. Checking email in bed, tweeting throughout dinner, and taking work calls on the weekend have become common practices - often diminishing time to spend with family or to decompress. In turn, this can be detrimental to our overall productivity, as research has found that the less time there is between work and bedtime, the less time there is to unwind and let our creative juices flow.
As a young professional, I've often faced the dilemma of whether "unplugging" is acceptable for me. Do I provide myself the freedom to stop answering emails once I've left the office, or am I becoming a slave to the pinging alerts of my email app? Having grown up with what was the luxury and is now the necessity of technology, I've found the guilt of powering off often wins over the relaxation of personal time. In college and graduate school, professors and mentors touted the "12 & 24-hour rules" - that all correspondence and emails should be answered within 12 hours of receipt on a weekday and 24 during the weekend - no matter what. Reality is, now that mobile devices and tablets have email capabilities, this rule is severely outdated. The business world doesn't wait for you while you are sleeping, walking your dog, or even celebrating Christmas dinner (yes, like many of you, I receive multiple emails on holidays).
Even worse, workers are staying at the office more than ever, often sacrificing important time off to refresh and recharge. The US Travel Association states that in 2013 alone, employees in the US didn't utilize nearly 169 million days of paid time off, totaling $52.4 billion in lost benefits. The belief that you aren't successful unless you are busy has created an unhealthy workforce where employers lose up to $300 billion annually due to employee stress. Even while I was recently on an 8 day vacation in Europe, I found myself constantly searching for WiFi to respond to emails to prevent a mudslide of stress when I returned to my office in New York. My paid time off provided a vacation physically, but I was mentally still at my desk.
When evaluating the role that well-being plays in a person's success, here are your options: take care of yourself and be around longer to rule the world or stress yourself out, cause chronic illness and be forced to sit on the sidelines. I'm choosing to stay in the game, and I'm exploring work-life balance for not only myself, but for my entire office.
Workstyles & Balance in Office Culture
Going beyond work-life balance is the idea of creating a workplace where the team feels as if there is a healthy balance in all that they do. Companies, including my own, have become more aware of this and have focused on the ways they currently address these needs as a means to acquire and retain top talent. Simply put: not every employee works the same way. Providing a variety of options for the differing workstyles of employees is key to achieving the goals and success of the organization as a whole.
When employees have the choice of where to work around the office - whether in collaborative areas or in quiet touch-down areas, they are in control of the balance of how and where they work. Satellite or remote working is also looked upon as a valuable piece of balanced working solutions, allowing employees to tailor their working styles to where they conduct work. Considering and planning for these subtleties not only creates balance to help workers succeed, but improves work satisfaction.
I benefit by working with a team and company that is keenly aware of workplace design and the impact it has on the success of an organization. Because of this, our team sits in an open floor layout and is afforded locations throughout the office to work on tasks based on preferred workstyles. When I need to do "head-down" work that requires sharp focus, I pick up my laptop and head to our glass-enclosed library and get to work. If our team needs to have a brainstorm session, we head to one of several lounge or conference areas to collaborate together. This balance provides a sense of control over our environment, which is often buzzing with excitement and chatter.
However, a paradigm shift is often needed to create an environment that steers away from overworking. Many times, this cultural change, where people don't feel obligated to burn out, must come from the top down in a company. Not only does balance have to be clearly stated as an important piece of a company, the executives and managers must also be aware of the tone they are setting when they pack up at a late hour as well. Encouraging associates to take their paid vacation days and ensuring that teams have an understanding of their anticipated workload is the responsibility of management. With vacation days left at the end of last year, the principals of my firm encouraged me to take time off between Christmas and New Year's - time they themselves took off as well. And when we all arrived back at the start of the year, everyone was fresh and the vibe of the team was more energetic than I've seen in months.
Implementation for balance in both the physical aspects of the workplace and organizational culture isn't always an easy step. Ensuring that you are a healthy, productive employee is just as important for management, and it's vital that they create an environment that encourages the well-being in their teams. That way balance becomes more than just a debate or discussion, but an action to ensure success can be achieved, and also maintained for a long time.