Updated: May 4
Have you ever been asked to describe how the workplace has changed? Well that’s exactly the question I was asked during a recent virtual panel discussion, being asked to describe how the intersection of work and home has changed over the years. The answer that sprang to mind was an analogy where I compared it to gymnastics apparatus. And since my co-presenters seemed to like it, I thought I’d share it with you in this blog.
As you read it, I’d encourage you to think about which piece of apparatus your company and you personally are on now, and which you’d like to be on in the future.
1. Work-life balance
Work-life balance is a term that first came into use in the 1970s and 80s as stressed out baby boomers were trying to achieve balance in their lives. It looked at work as one part of an employee's experience, and outside interests such as family, friends, hobbies, etc. as another. It’s endgame was about equilibrium and division of time, making sure that one didn’t take away too much from the other.
I compare this to the balance beam, since it’s all about getting the balance right between work and life. But like a beam, getting the balance right can be difficult, for it’s almost impossible to split your time equally since home and work often get in the way, which means you ‘fall off’ one or the other.
In a UC Berkeley and Berkeley Haas paper they make the point that the traditional image of a scale associated with work-life balance creates a sense of competition between the two elements, evoking a binary opposition between work and life.
2. Work-life integration
Work-life integration is the next term that was introduced, and as written in an article in Forbes, “As millennials have risen through the professional ranks they are more interested in finding a career path that will support their 'lifestyle,' which in this context means their life outside of work."
I compare this to the vault, which is where you go on and off of the apparatus as you perform your gymnastics move. Unlike the beam, you intentionally go from one to the another, so there’s more of an integration.
I believe this term and this concept is much better than the former, as it moves from opposition to synergies between work and life. However, I’m not sure it’s enough, for if I compare it again to the vault, it sometimes is not smooth enough, abruptly moving from one to the other.
3. Work-life flow: the bars
The final term I’d like to share is work-life flow. Now I have to be honest and say that when I used it during the panel discussion I had not actually heard it before. However, in researching for this blog, I’ve come to find that it's a term used by some, and refers to when work and life flow smoothly and continually from one to another, when activities are not limited or restricted by timing or a strict plan.
I compare this to the bars, which is a lovely apparatus to watch as gymnasts flow gracefully and effortlessly from one bar to the other, twisting and turning as they fly between them.
The concept of flow was described in a ResearchGate paper as “the intersection of optimal being and optimal doing.”
This concept resonates with me, as it’s where not just where you're in the 'flow' by doing and being your best, but taking it that one step further, it's where work and life can co-exist. It's where they flow gracefully from one to another without friction and competition, doing what’s right for you and for your company.
However, like the bars, where the apparatus and techniques have changed over the years to allow this flow, so too does the workplace. We need to change our focus from working hours to a focus on productivity, from rigidity to flexibility, and to encouraging and supporting our employees both inside and outside of the workplace.
Let me end by saying that the point of this blog is to show how this intersection has changed over the years, but more important, how there is still more work to be done to evolve and change it in the future. I encourage you to take the time to understand and map out what will drive and support your business and your people to get this intersection right, changing your processes, tools and even mindsets to support it. For this is where you’ll see the magic happen, and, going back to my gymnastics analogy, this is where you and your people will achieve the perfect 10!