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  • Writer's pictureAri Betof

And the Survey Says…Give Us More Work-Life Balance

Some employers and employees seem to be working at cross-purposes when it comes to work-life balance. In 2021, at the height of the COVID pandemic, an estimated 37 percent of households had at least one adult working part- or full-time from home. In 2023, that percentage had dwindled to 26 percent. An increasing number of companies started putting the brakes—partially or completely—on remote work in 2022 and 2023. 

 

While big employers may be ready to put pandemic work patterns in the rearview mirror and bring everyone back to the in-person office in the name of “productivity,” a growing number of employees have a different perspective.  

 

Almost half of the 27,000 employees worldwide responding to a recent study by the staffing firm Randstad NV said they value balance, flexibility, and a sense of belonging over ambition and career advancement. These employees are also looking for greater support for their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.  

 

A Ford Motor Company 2024 Trend Report delivered similar results, with 52 percent of the global workforce surveyed saying they were willing to accept a 20 percent salary reduction to achieve better work-life balance. 

 

“It shocked us,” said Ford’s lead researcher on the report, speaking to the Detroit Free Press. 

 

Our collective new normal 

 

The hybrid environment retains a lot of traction across industries and locations. Since COVID, fewer and fewer employees fortunate enough to work from home want to return to a desk in a physical office. Remote work suited these employees so well that many have arranged major lifestyle choices around it, making it even harder to go back to the pre-pandemic “normal.”  

 

In fact, noted the Randstad survey, more than one-third of the survey respondents said they would think seriously about leaving their current employers if their companies required more time in the physical office.  

 

“Disorienting”  

 

A CNBC news article published in October 2023 underlines the conceptual problems many employers still have with remote work, with many calling it “disorienting” for them to deal with. The number of job openings posted that involve remote work plummeted, while postings for entirely in-person work  skyrocketed more than 90 percent as of the close of 2023. That’s especially true for positions that pay in the higher six figures.  

 

What this turn back to the past fails to account for is that, for employees accustomed to remote work, it can be similarly “disorienting” to return to a bricks-and-mortar workplace. 

 

Expert opinion supports work-life balance 

 

Several experts at the University of Cincinnati’s Lindner College of Business participated in a round-table discussion on the subject of work-life balance in February 2023. Their consensus: Work-life balance—with enough time for stress-free relaxation, sleep, and mental recovery from being constantly available—is a net positive in terms of physical and psychological health. The takeaway for employers is that helping their teams disconnect from work is ultimately very good for on-the-job performance and productivity. 

 

As one of the UC team said, the pandemic taught us that “now you've got to work in a different way.” So, instead of going back to a configuration that no longer exists, companies in the current “employee-friendly” job ecosystem need to find ways to at least meet their teams halfway.  

 

Are you a “segmentor” or an “integrator”? 

 

Part of this involves taking individual differences into account. The UC group noted that perhaps the majority of employees are “segmentors,” people who prefer distinct boundaries between their professional and personal lives. Some others are “integrators,” who have no problem moving fluidly between the two spheres and even allowing a lot of slippage from one into the other. 

 

Employees who feel empowered enough to do so should make their preferences in this regard clear to their employers, who can then work with them to negotiate the most accommodating work-life balance possible.  

 

Reorienting to new realities 

 

The UC discussion also emphasized that the best employers even step in to help employees maintain a healthy work-life balance, giving them explicit instructions to log out when they’ve put in too many hours, or helping them set more realistic priorities.  

 

“Realistic” is a key concept for employers to bear in mind. As experts have noted, given basic job and income stability, greater numbers of people just aren’t willing to exhaust themselves climbing the corporate ladder.  

 

A lot of this attitude change has to do with the instability experienced in recent years: Not only the pandemic, but the volatility of the economy, the stock market, and interest rates. There is greater pushback than ever to the idea that more money will make people happier.  

 

This shift in priorities among employees is likely to endure, because it’s generational. Significantly more Gen Z employees are vocal advocates for their own work-life balance and non-materialistic values than the Baby Boom generation. This is bringing American workers more into line with those in the European Union, where demands for—and concessions on—work-life balance have been commonplace for decades. 

 

So, if you’re an employee, take some time to take stock of your values, priorities, and work-life boundaries.  

 

If you’re an employer, work on moving beyond your own “disorientation” at the seismic shifts in how the world wants to work. Look for solutions that both acknowledge your bottom line and give your team the flexibility they need to support you at their best.  

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