Companies are still finding their feet when it comes to giving employees a good work-life balance. But does the flexibility of letting you work from home really give you the best of both worlds?
A good work-life balance is starting to overtake a high salary as the main desire for jobseekers.
There are plenty of perks and extras that companies are starting to throw at employees in order to promote a positive company culture and an engaged workforce. However, one of the most important elements of a good work-life balance is flexibility.
Employees who feel like their company is flexible about their time will feel more comfortable working there, not to mention the fact that they will feel trusted and valued.
However, flexibility can often just be chalked up to giving employees the option to work from home. Sure, there is a certain level of positive flexibility that comes with this ‘perk’. However, it’s not a catch-all solution to the question of a good work-life balance.
“I don’t think working from home necessarily equates to work-life balance,” said Michelle Hammond, senior lecturer in occupational behaviour at University of Limerick.
She said there are a lot of drawbacks to working from home, particularly for people who do so full-time.
“There’s a lot more to our work than just doing the work. There’s the whole relational aspect; we get meaning in our work from the relationships we have with other people, so you can start to feel isolated.”
Hammond also cited the problem of feeling excluded, particularly if the majority of your team work in the office. “There’s a lot of information that’s exchanged informally in the workplace that you tend to miss out on.”
Is it really that flexible?
Aside from the information you might miss, there can be a certain question over how genuine that policy really is.
Hammond said the difference between written policy and real-life culture could stop employees from availing of the so-called ‘perks’ that might claim to offer them a better work-life balance.
“There is a big discussion around what’s on the books. Is it just window dressing?”
According to Hammond, organisations might write down a number of policies to seem attractive to new recruits, but how these policies are implemented and utilised by staff is what really matters. “Are there unspoken consequences for people’s careers if they do take that leave?”
Hammond also said that gender comes into play with these policies. “Many times, it’s the women who, when they take up the policies, experience the career consequences.”
Extremism doesn’t work
In 2003, American corporation Best Buy introduced a new management scheme called Results Only Work Environment.
This scheme allowed employees to come and go as they pleased, without question or excuse. As long as the work was done and the results were achieved, nothing else mattered.
However, after 10 years of enjoying the scheme, the company’s CEO Hubert Joly controversially scrapped it, calling the system “fundamentally flawed from a leadership standpoint”.
Joly said the scheme only suited the delegation style of management, which is not always the right system.
“Any time we go to extremes is when the problems occur,” said Hammond, agreeing that a mixture of time at home and in the office is important. “The key factor is having some policies available and then having a supportive culture around that.”
The ‘whole person’ approach
A good work-life balance is not just about allowing employees to work from home, nor is it just about employees who have families.
Hammond talked about the importance of giving equal time and flexibility to employees at all stages of their lives. “It might not just be family activities.”
“One other way of approaching it is having organisations value some of those other pursuits,” she added.
Organisations should reward employees for skills they gain outside the office, such as volunteering and parenting. These are transferable skills and will be useful in all realms of work.
Extra-curricular pursuits can encourage a much better work-life balance than being at home with your laptop ever could.
Looking for jobs in tech or science? Check out our Employer Profiles for information on companies hiring right now and sign up for our Career Republic e-zine for a weekly digest of sci-tech careers news and advice.