The pursuit of work-life balance has been a hot topic for businesses and organizations over the last couple of decades. The prevailing wisdom is simple: If an employee spends too much time engrossed in work, and too little time relaxing, exercising, and socializing, he or she will become unhappy, less productive, and will ultimately burn out.
There is a great deal of truth in that idea; most of us have either experienced burnout ourselves, or witnessed it in a friend, family member, or a colleague.
Today, the economic globalization has blurred the line between work and home by requiring people to be available 24/7, as you collaborate on common projects across the continents. Workplace mobility and flexibility have essentially have made your work your life. Today the technology, your purported savior and lifeline, has essentially created a jail on wheels. Your work goes everywhere you go—your laptop and BlackBerry or iPhone have become an integral part of your person. There is no off button in your brain.
So what is the answer? Throw out the iPods and iPhones, or ditch the laptops and shut off the brain after 5 p.m.? Of course not. The recent economic realities of a contracting economy, job loss, and competition from overseas for cheap labor have shifted the importance of the intrusion of work into our private lives far beyond the 9-5 workday. This is irreversible, at least for now. Where do we go from here? How do we achieve meaning and authenticity in what we do for a living, and integrate it with a purposeful and passionate life, so burnout is not lurking on the horizon?
Businesses are wise to address the issue of burnout with work-life balance initiatives. But unfortunately many of them approach the subject with the wrong mindset. As a result, they engage in initiatives that are piecemeal. Consequently, they cost a substantial amount of money but provide limited results.
The key lies in a paradigm shift in how business is done. A large part of this equation must be the employee. An employee-centered corporation has a much better chance of creating greater engagement, lower burnout, and greater worker satisfaction.
Here are three of the programs I talk about in my forthcoming book, Work-Life Balance is DEAD! Your Personal GPS for Living an Authentic Life.
- DREAMS program: The Corporation can institute a DREAMS program, where the employees get an opportunity to work four hours every week on their dreams on the company’s time, while working on the corporation’s dream 36 hours. This sends a powerful signal to the employees that their hopes and dreams matter too, and that profit motive is not the only guiding principle.
- AWARDS program: The Corporation can create a sense of ownership and stake in the products or services the company produces, by seeking ideas from the employees for better customer service or better product development or even better community engagement. Every month, one idea and one employee are chosen for a significant award and it is widely circulated in the corporation’s newsletter or announcements.
- COMMUNICATIONS program: How many people have actually met the CEO of the company or heard from upper management about the company’s vision and how the employees fit into that corporate vision? Have regular monthly Meet-the-CEO luncheons where the CEO can meet a small group, shake hands with each one and say, "You are doing a great job. You are important to the company."
This must be accomplished by a genuine shift in the corporate culture, not just a public relations campaign or hype. This is the key to the success of the corporation of the 21st century. A humanizing environment within the corporation can much more easily pave the way for a humanizing brand and a humanizing corporation in the larger world of the consumer. A burned-out and disengaged employee can hardly be your evangelist. Your employees can be your best advocates and your evangelists, if they see their dreams and goals being met where they spend most of their life. Choosing between life and work is no choice at all. Choosing between their dreams and the dreams of the corporation is no choice either. But, making a life while making a living is the best of all possibilities.
[Image: Flickr user MaestroBen]