Should we worry that Ireland has slid down work-life balance rankings?

18 Jul 2016

The most recent ranking of which countries believe they have achieved the best work-life balance has shown Ireland rank 14th out of the 35 OECD members, with women feeling the burden of ‘work-work’ life more than ever.

With the internet increasingly creating an ‘always-on’ mindset for many employees and managers, the importance of a work-life balance – where someone can claim they’re happy with how they combine work and their personal lives – has never been more apparent.

After all, decades ago, we were all promised that things were only going to get better for humanity as increased automation would lead to many of us having more leisure time than we’d know what to do with. Yet this has proven to be nothing but a futuristic fantasy.

Convenience or hindrance?

Ireland’s latest ranking of 14th out of 35 OECD countries is down five places since the same time last year. Where have things gone wrong for Ireland in the space of a year that could instigate such a decline?

Alluding to what was mentioned at the beginning of this piece, the internet has, for a number of years now, made our ability to disconnect when on holidays more difficult, but that’s become even more apparent in the last year. Applications like Slack, for instance, have been highlighted as blurring the lines further.

Those familiar with the messaging productivity app have probably seen, at least in the beginning, messages appearing in your notifications like typical messaging conversations and, unless you turn these off, there’s little hope of escaping work.

OECD ranking

The OECD ranking chart

Case in point, Sheryl Sandberg

It’s not just the staff that feel obliged to work during their time off either, with a survey undertaken last year showing that 64pc of employers expect their staff to be effectively on-call, despite it being their time-off.

Apps like Slack or Trello are not oblivious to such problems, though, and have taken efforts to limit the worsening issue of achieving the happiness of a true work-life balance.

That issue is not all down to the prevalance of the internet in the workplace, though, as in many cases – particularly among women – extra struggles emerge when trying to grow your career and run a household, too.

Case in point: Facebook’s CEO, Sheryl Sandberg issued a Mother’s Day post on her own Facebook page discussing the many challenges that arise from parenthood and career prospects.

Having lost her partner in 2015, Sandberg discussed difficulties she never realised existed before when it comes to trying to successfully manage both aspects of your life.

“Before [her partner’s death], I did not quite get it,” Sandberg wrote. “I did not really get how hard it is to succeed at work when you are overwhelmed at home.

“I did not understand how often I would look at my son’s or daughter’s crying face and not know how to stop the tears. How often situations would come up that Dave and I had never talked about, and that I did not know how to handle on my own.”

While a very emotional example, this typifies the necessary realisation that keeping each of the major aspects of your life in two very distinct places is essential.

In the face of challenging realities that require your full attention, you can’t simply dip in and out of the two arenas with ease.

Sheryl Sandberg

Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg. Image via Fortune Live Media/Flickr

Culture is changing

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as a number of companies are taking greater efforts to prevent situations like the one experienced by Sandberg and many other women in the workplace.

One office concept that is increasingly being worn away by a changing culture is regular office hours, with the nine-to-five lifestyle simply not fitting with the rest of a person’s life.

Hence, flexibility in the workplace is now an increasingly important attribute for an employer in the modern world, and one that is leading to a number of companies seeing this as a way to rank highly on work-life balance surveys.

This will, hopefully, prove the starting point for a changed workplace that will not only benefit all employees, but mothers in particular, who feel they are left with the choice of having either a career or a family.

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Balancing rocks image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey
By Colm Gorey

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic. He joined in January 2014 and covered AI, IoT, science and anything that will get us to Mars quicker. When not trying to get his hands on the latest gaming release, he can be found lost in a sea of Wikipedia articles on obscure historic battles and countries that don't exist any more, or watching classic Simpsons episodes far too many times to count.

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