“Work-life balance—a question about lifestyle!”
There’s a new shift that suggests companies and their employees will have to start thinking in a different way when it comes to the way we work and live. This isn’t only because there are fewer of us to do more work, but because the workforce in 2020 is going to be occupied by five generations. We’ll have to work side by side, which will make it necessary for companies to work inter-generationally and design organizations that cater to the needs of all five generations. To get as much as possible out of our human resources, it is vital that we put the work-life balance in focus.
If you look at the classic perception of balance, the starting point is that work and spare time are two irreconcilable components. For a lot of jobs, that might be a necessary distinction, but that doesn’t change the fact that many of us fight to maintain this distinction even though it doesn’t necessarily benefit them in their professional (or their personal) life. This is especially true for jobs that require creative solutions, knowledge and innovation. Employees in these fields fight to reach the ideal balance with set patterns, when in fact they would benefit significantly from breaking the pattern of working from nine to five and instead of following a system based on the individual tasks and their own energy levels.
A lot of families with kids might think it would be difficult to break with this pattern because their kids need to be picked up before 4:30 pm. But the truth is that breaking this pattern would likely result in more time – and energy – to devote to family. Instead of looking at your career as a marathon, you could try to look at it as a series of sprints. You break into a sprint when you come across a demanding task with a fast-approaching deadline or when your industry is in a busy period. Break into a sprint when the task needs as much attention as possible, even if that happens to be at night when your kids are tucked into bed.
When the sprint is over, you can take a breather. Take a day off. Spend the day with your kids or start working shorter days, bracing yourself for the next sprint. Building a balance based on energy and the requirements of the task rather than the nine-to-five rhythm has its own side effects. You’ll need to sacrifice family time during high-intensity periods, and you’ll need to be able to handle small doses of stress and not the long-term kind of stress that has a terrible impact on your mental health, but the short-term stress that doesn’t linger.
Research show that baby boomers and generation X make little to no attempt to avoid burning out mentally as well as physically. Whereas, the younger generations (such as generations Y and Z) are more preoccupied with preventing things like burnout, so they think in terms of prevention. This means that they’re focused on changing the traditional way of working. This appears to be the direct consequence of them having seen their parents and older siblings work so hard; they burned out. They’ve experienced absentee parents who were too busy with a professional life focused on self-fulfillment, materialism and recognition.
Older generations may feel suffocated by the unorganized and uncontrolled way future generations prefer to work. All there is to say about that is that generations Y and Z grew up in a unique era with unique conditions.
It wouldn’t be out of line to call them “generation multi-tasking.” We’re talking about generations that have been bombarded with information, constant media buzz, computers, TVs and radios their entire lives. They’re well-equipped to handle any number of distractions and many of them work well with distractions like heavy metal at top volume. The younger generations also want to burn without burning out, which means that they feel less of a need to earn lots of money. They would instead work for little money in a job they love than for lots of money in a job they hate. All they want is to earn enough.
The market of the future demands flexibility
The rebellious young generations aren’t the only ones to blame for the fact that the separation of work and personal life as we know it is changing. The market of the future will make it challenging to maintain a balance based on time and place. Throughout the next five years, we’ll begin to consider knowledge as our most valuable good. More and more companies will generate and trade knowledge rather than material possessions. We won’t be competing on price and quality.
We’ll be living off developing, sharing and generating knowledge, research and concept development. We’re going to need innovation and creativity. Thinking that you can place employees in this field in an office chair is a pipe dream. They won’t be able to develop ideas and knowledge within a predetermined timeframe in a position where someone is always looking over their shoulder. The companies that don’t understand this won’t survive in the long run. And no, it’s not enough to give employees the option to show up at 8:30 am instead of 8:00 am or allowing casual clothing on Fridays.
We need to organize our work around the tasks that need doing. In some instances, this means that we need to reconsider our conventional way of working and realizing that a workday can be two hours long sometimes. Eight hours isn’t always necessary. We need to destroy the idea that hours worked, and the level of productivity have a direct correlation. Who came up with the ridiculous notion that spending lots of time at work means you’re successful?
The older definition of balance would probably make people between the ages of 15 and 25 roll their eyes in boredom. Is the most important part of a functional work life really that you can leave as soon as the clock strikes four? The fact that younger generations don’t agree with this definition of work-life balance doesn’t mean that future generations don’t care about their families or having time for their hobbies. In fact, the opposite is true. The generations that will take over the office chairs of companies around the world over the next 10 – 15 years will have a different definition of balance.
It won’t be decided by quantitative factors like time and salary (to the same extent). Balance will have more to do with freedom and energy. Factors that can’t be described in terms of quantitative factors. The current definition of work-life balance won’t hold up for future generations. Generations Y and Z will go head to head with the definition of balance that generation X has.
They won’t care as much about whether you can be there for a certain event at a specific time. Balance will be defined by the energy we’ll be able to bring to work and focus will shift to the freedom to work in a way that works for us. All that will matter is that the task gets done. But the leaders of countries around the world shouldn’t start clapping just yet. The future view of balance won’t mean that employees will no longer require things of their employers or that they’ll be busy bees who show up whenever you need them.
The workforce of the future will demand more of their employers and they’ll be harder to control. They’ll want special treatment and the time they spend working needs to depend on the amount of energy they put into their work, rather than working seven to eight hours every day.
Fans of the boss
Within the next decade, the leaders of countries are bound to up the charismatic barometer and ease up on reporting and pre-established rules. The current tendency to focus on documentation and economic steering will come under fire when new generations join the market. Younger generations have no respect for hierarchies and authorities. They only follow the leaders that catch their interest and gain their respect. They don’t want to be controlled. They want to be inspired.
They’ve seen Steve Jobs speeches, liked what they saw and wanted more. They want to be fans of the boss. They want to be able to give him a thumbs up on Facebook and tell their friends what a cool, committed, and visionary person they’re working for. Then there are people who think “ha, they won’t last five minutes. Nobody wants to hire a bunch of anarchic troublemakers.”
Probably not, however, here’s the thing, they’ll have to. Generations Y and Z own less than previous generations. They’ll be swimming in job offers as soon as the baby boomers stop working. Companies are going to be fighting to get them. They can try to offer higher salaries, bigger company cars and better insurance policies. They can tell them they can become partners five years earlier than what has traditionally been possible, but it will be in vain.
Generations Y and Z grew up in a tsunami of materialism. They want to be inspired and motivated. Their job has to mean something to them. That doesn’t mean that they’re all going to work for NGOs of high social standing, but they want to see a point in what they do and their work has to make a difference.
Do you recognize this attitude? This is going to challenge the way leaders select, motivate and develop their employees. The traditional motivating factors are being pushed out by new factors. These newer generations want the freedom to design their own career, including the entire framework for how they work, who they work with and which projects stimulate them.
“Work-Life Balance” is a lecture about balance, barriers, and decisions in a busy life with changes, ambitions, marriage, children, and family. This personal lecture is about life design and trade-offs based on Soulaima’s own experiences from a busy life with two children, ambitions, an international career, and a long-lasting marriage. This is an active and engaging lecture with plenty of opportunities to ask questions and reflect upon your own life.
Please contact Big Speak if you would like to book a specific lecture or a combination of several topics tailored to your needs.
You can also use the form on this side to send an inquiry to Soulaima.
It is now—or perhaps never
January 24 2013, Samvirke, by Soulaima Gourani
Soulaima Gourani believes that we shouldn’t always postpone things, and we certainly shouldn’t count on it as a fact that there will be a new day tomorrow. Perhaps today is the last day of your life or the life of your loved ones.
Read the article here (in Danish)