As we begin the New Year, let me throw my hat into the ring of resolution-making and share what I think should be the Top Five Work+Life Fit Goals for 2008:
1) Recognize that there isn’t a “right” work+life fit answer, and stop judging the choices of others. There is no one “right” way to combine work and life, but I still find people are searching for that one correct answer. The truth is that the answer isn’t out there. It’s within each of us. And all of our answers are going to look different, and they are going to change many times throughout our life and career. I know that sounds a little “Glinda the Good Witch meets Dorothy.” But if we acknowledge this fact, maybe we’ll spend less time judging the work+life fit choices of others as being right or wrong, and start sharing strategies for creating solutions that work for us personally and for our jobs. Because this new reality does require new strategies.
2) Refuse to buy into any work+life “wars”—mommy, daddy, singles vs. parents, generational, or other—because we all need to figure out this new work+life fit reality together. The Mommy Wars, et all, distract us and pit us against one another. They keep us stuck by causing us to avoid making the challenging fundamental changes—organizational, managerial, and individual–necessary to create a new way of working and living in today’s world. More unites us on these issues than divides us. That said….
3) Continue to recognize that work+life fit is a “everyone” issue. According to the Work+Life Fit Reality Check there was a statistically significant difference between the experiences of those 34 years old and under versus those 35 and older, and those in households with one person versus households with three or more people. Those over 35 and those who are single were less likely in 2007 to report a better work+life fit than in the prior year. They were less comfortable discussing their need for work+life fit with their manager, and perceived less support from their companies. In today’s 24/7, high tech, global work reality we all need to perceive the same level of access, comfort, and support to find our unique work+life fit.
4) Companies must recognize that work+life flexibility is a core growth strategy, and not a “perk or benefit.” Only one-third of respondents to the Work+Life Fit Reality Check said their organizations viewed flexibility as a growth strategy for managing time, talent, and workflow. That means more than 60% of organizations either see it as a perk or benefit, or don’t offer flexibility at all. And flexibility only works if it’s integrated into the day-to-day business. That requires a strategy that aligns the organization, managers, and employees around a shared understanding of flexibility in the context of that unique business.
Why is this goal so critical for organizations in 2008? Because they are facing a tipping point. Either organizations increase the flexibility they offer voluntarily or they may find the public starts to pressure the government to step in and speed the process up. With only one-in-four respondents to the Work+Life Fit Reality Check saying they have the fit they need, there is obviously a lot of frustration. And the demand for change is building, as indicated by the 58% of respondents who said they want the next President to introduce legislation that would make it easier for organizations to offer and for individuals to have work+life flexibility.
My experience has been that most organizations and managers are as confused as their employees about mutually-beneficial solutions for living and working in today’s world. But organizations can’t let that confusion paralyze their rate of innovation if they want to influence the process and outcome. Hesitate much longer, and they may find the government will do it for them, as has been the case in countries such as England, Australia, and New Zealand.
Maybe it will take the government stepping in and offering incentives to companies and protections to employees for the pace of change to increase. But companies need to remain active and engaged partners in creating those new solutions. Because government-mandated flexibility will look much different than tailored flexibility strategies contextualized to the business and growth objectives of a particular organization.
5) Seriously rethink using the term “work/life balance” to describe the goal we are trying to achieve with flexibility, because there really is no “balance.” There is only the right “fit” between the time and energy we devote to work and the other parts of our life. And that fit depends upon a set of work and personal realities that are unique to each person and their phase of life.
A well-respected researcher recently told me that few, if any, of the most noted academics in the area of work+life use the term balance in their work. Then why are we as a culture so wedded to it? I understand that it’s the most recognized term, but I really don’t believe it’s the right term.
We need to change how we discuss the goal we are trying to achieve if we are going to start seeing the possibilities for how we combine our work and life. If we don’t, we will continue to focus only on what we don’t have—balance–and instead of on what we could have—Fit!.
Do you have work+life fit goals to add for organizations, managers, and or individuals? I’d love to hear them.
(Go to my Work+Life Fit Blog for: “Can We Close the Work+Life Fit Gap in 2008?”)