This week was National Work Life Week. Increasingly, the term “work life” is paired with the word “balance”. But does this put work and life at odds with each other? Is it really a matter of tipping the scales for one part of life to the detriment of another?
With flexible working and technology blurring the line between clocked in and clocked out, and one in ten UK employees officially working over 50 hours per week, “work-life balance” has become an aspirational ideal. One that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has recently called ‘debilitating’. Controversial, perhaps; but what he is suggesting is that ‘balance’ implies a trade-off between work and life – but work and life should not balance on a set of scales. Instead they should form “a circle”, he was quoted as saying. In this circle, all parts of life should work harmoniously together, ensuring you’re so happy at home that you bounce into work full of energy – and vice versa.
“If I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy and if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy,” Bezos is quoted as saying.
This concept of ‘bringing your whole self to work’ has a dual definition. On the one hand it means bringing your ‘A-Game’ to your role every single day, and on the other, being comfortable enough at work to share your personal life, interests, and vulnerabilities with colleagues. The notion of ‘whole self’ means you should apply your all of you to all you do – and work, is in fact, part of your life.
Easier said than done, according to research featured in the Deloitte University Leadership Centre for Inclusion report, Uncovering Talent. Far from the whole population feeling free to bring their whole selves, it showed that 61% of all employees ‘cover’ their identities in some way. This could look like a person of Muslim faith praying in the bathroom, a mother not displaying pictures of her children on her desk, a gay man not bringing his partner to a company event, or a young employee taking leave days for mental health appointments rather than calling in sick. All of this, in order to downplay perceived difference.
Additionally, studies show that when we ‘cover’ and don’t bring our whole selves to work, we suffer. Energy that should be spent on doing our best work is spent trying to fit in; by looking, doing and saying what we think is ‘right’. It results in decreased productivity, engagement and well-being.
So, as an employer, what can be done to give your employees the best shot at creating their ‘harmonious circle’ to ensure they bring their whole selves? The solution is not easy, but it starts with inclusion. An inclusive workplace makes diverse employees feel valued, welcome, integrated and included in the workforce instead of isolated. For a start, it may mean offering flexible working, making space for prayer, and supporting better sleep. Or better still, it’s asking employees themselves, proactively having discussions about what this means and how to make it happen.