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Balance - 18 March 2014

Here’s something interesting that’s only been discovered by researchers in the past few years.  When employees perceive their organisation as being flexible, they’re less likely to feel there’s a conflict between their work and their personal life – even when they don’t take advantage of flexible opportunities at work.

This means that what people think of their employer is sometimes more important than what their employer actually does.  If, for example, they perceive their boss or their company as being rigid and uncompromising, they’re more prone to feeling as though there’s an imbalance between their work and their life – even if such an imbalance doesn’t really exist.  But if they sense their employer is open and accommodating, that tension is diminished.

A new study published in The International Journal of Human Resource Management has furthered this research by confirming there are two main ways in which people seek to obtain a work/life balance:  segmentation and integration.

Segmentation occurs when employees put up strong boundaries to protect their personal life from being invaded by their work.  For instance, they might refuse to stay in the office past a certain time; or they might decline taking work home with them at night; or they might just switch their work devices off outside of business hours.

Integration is the opposite.  This is when employees have relaxed and fluid boundaries.  Their work and life overlap, which means they might run personal errands while they’re at work and vice versa.  Going to work late is seen as no big deal, but neither do they hesitate staying back in the office when the need arises.   

Neither of those options is better or worse than the other.  They merely represent the preferred working style for those in your team who desire a greater work/life balance.  Some will want a clear separation between work and life while others will prefer to weave in and out of the two.  The ultimate goal of both groups, however, remains the same.  

Your task is to have a conversation with each employee during which you learn about:

  -  Their values so that you can ascertain the option that suits them best.
  -  Their needs so that you understand the pressures they face outside of work.
  -  And their preferences so that you can tailor flexibility in line with their expectations.

What you might discover is that the conversation alone is enough to make them feel as though their work and their life are no longer enemies competing for time and attention.



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