In 2004 author Mike Johnson suggested the new world of work would require new job titles – among them “Chief life-work balance officer”. The last decade has indeed seen the emergence of new HR job titles – Business Partner is now ubiquitous and who knew ten years ago that we needed Talent Management Specialists? With the imminent extension to the Right to Request Flexible Working, the moment has come to revisit the corporate approach to work life balance; and create a new role of Head of Balanced Working, Wellbeing and Inclusion. I’ve grouped these areas together as I consider them to be inextricably linked for the following reasons:
1. In many organisations flexible working is the new normal – but it’s not necessarily balanced working. A 24/7 X 365 global economy often requires employees to work across time zones – stretching start or finish times and increasing total working hours. Given the freedom to do so, most of these workers are perfectly capable of adjusting their working patterns to achieve results and lead a more balanced life. The first big task for the Head of Balanced Working is therefore to move the organisation to a Results Only Work Environment.
2. Research continues to demonstrate the intricate links between good work life balance and employee wellbeing. Poor balance has been shown to result in poorer eating habits, less time spent on exercise, higher levels of stress and lower employee engagement. All of which are reflected in rising healthcare costs and sickness absence levels. Furthermore, the effects of poor balance are contagious – a stressed worker is likely to have a negative impact on the rest of his team.
3. Human talent is a scarce resource that employers must nurture. McKinsey recently published an investigation into how organisations can make best use of scarce natural resources but appear to have overlooked the critical one – people. We all know that running an electronic device (tablet, smartphone etc) for long periods of time not only drains but also eventually degrades the battery. Human beings also need to recharge their batteries, and if these run out they cannot be replaced. If you lose key talent through burnout you cannot simply have another one shipped from a factory somewhere or invest in an upgrade.
4. An increasing proportion of the talent that organisations struggle to attract and retain is looking for more balanced working arrangements. Women, in particular, regularly cite the lack of work-life balance at senior levels as a major barrier to career progression. Increasingly men – as they become carers – are beginning to say the same. The second big task for the Head of Balanced Working is therefore to develop inclusive HR policies and practices that revolve around making the best of available talent, not around standard 9-5 jobs. This means reviewing everything – from the terms on which new hires are appointed, to the basis on which people are developed and promoted; and to redefining the senior role models that junior staff will emulate.
Even without the extended legislation, the interminable move towards flexible working is non-negotiable. IT and FM colleagues, are contemplating Agile Working. HR needs to join that conversation. At the end of the day premises can be renovated and technical equipment replaced. It’s the human talent that makes it all work and it needs to be sustained.
About AJ Meller
Anna Meller has spent the last 20 years making work-life integration her business. A successful consultant, thought leader, researcher and author, Anna’s accessible approach is both evidence based and pragmatic.