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Building a Better Work-Life Balance for Yourself and Your Employees



Construction worker enjoying family How does one find work/life balance in this new work environment that is expected to be both digital and in-person? We asked two experts for their insights on this question that is affecting every industry. Michael Halinski, Ph.D., is associate professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University). Renee Heath, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Organizational Communications at the University of New Hampshire.

Generation shift in expectations

“There’s been a generational shift seen in every work industry, not just construction and manufacturing,” says Halinski, “but also a value shift away from work, away from “hustle culture” to family and personal life.” He says both employers and employees recognize this new paradigm and are learning to work within it. He says the gig economy is also playing a part. “People are finding second and even third types of employment and entrepreneurship. It’s no longer work/life balance. It’s work/work/work/life balance.”

Heath says the new expectations are part of what is known as a “psychological contract,” an agreement that is tacitly expected and quietly communicated. These changes have been in the works for some time, starting with the entry of women into management positions and emphasis on providing for parents, both of which took root in the ‘90s. That has expanded recently to include consideration for non-traditional employees, although accommodations are not yet equitably applied. “The next generation, especially, want time to travel, do volunteer work, and pursue other self-interests. Employers are coming to realize that work/life balance is for everyone and no longer applies exclusively to parents,” says Heath.

In addition, says Heath, today’s younger workers saw their parents and neighbors laid off in the early ‘80s, the early ‘90s and again following the economic upheaval of 2008. “The very definition of work/life balance has changed, and that’s not a deficit of the workforce.”  She says the temptation to label younger workers as feeling entitled is neither fair nor accurate. “They are simply responding to what has been taking place in the workplace for the past few generations.”

Halinski says that although these changes had been building for some time, “The whole process was accelerated by 25 years by the pandemic.” Change continues, often rapidly, and both employers and employees should accept the fluid and dynamic nature of these changes.

Distance and time

“Geographics matter in work/life balance,” says Heath, “and many workers have moved to locations that better match their lifestyles. Knowledge workers, especially, have relocated. Technology has enabled them to do so. And now that employers have given up the requirement for on-site work, it will be difficult for them to take that back.” Pre-pandemic, employers were advised to make concessions to employees who do remain on-site. “More recent longitudinal studies show that employees’ work expectations normalize over time and those concessions may be unnecessary in the long term.”

She says research is needed and ongoing but not yet complete regarding the impact of the pandemic on the workplace. “The one thing we say with certainty is that it’s clear mental health concerns and anxiety are more pronounced post-pandemic,” says Heath. The diversity of personal views will require a diversity of personal approaches to work/life balance.

Three tips for finding work/life balance

Halinski offers three key factors in managing work/life balance.

1. Build a relationship with your manager. Your manager needs to be aware of the other factors in your work/life balance and supportive of your measures to achieve the right balance for you. He notes that today’s managers “can and do make big accommodations to meet the needs of valuable employees.”

2. Have conversations with your spouse and other invested parties. Those persons influence your work decisions so make sure they have the opportunity to engage in the process.

3. Set temporal and physical boundaries to keep work and non-work clearly separated. “This is the most important step,” says Halinski. Establish routines. If you’re no longer commuting, find something else to replace that transition process. Walk around the block. Meditate. Change clothes. “The individual is primarily responsible for this separation, but the employer can and should help. It’s about boundary management.”

Halinski says the plan is not an end goal. “Be diligent in monitoring and revising your plan as your circumstances change.”

Too much, too fast

In recent years we’ve had sweeping phenomena redefining the work world. The Great Resignation saw large numbers of workers leave their jobs. Quiet quitting followed, where workers stayed on their jobs but did no more work than was necessary. Next was quiet firing, where employers kept employees on staff but overlooked them for advances, recognition, and support. Now we are entering a white-collar recession, where professional workers are overrepresented in layoffs. “The pandemic forced another radical realignment of values and compelled employees to find new ways to achieve work/life balance, if they have that luxury,” says Heath. “Not all do.”

For Heath, the key takeaway is that work/life balance is a negotiated thing between workers and employers. It is not standardized and it is not fixed. It varies among positions, such as hourly laborers vs. salaried management, and among industries, such as construction contractors vs. real estate developers. When done correctly, both the employee and the employer benefit, both have their needs met and both see the value of working out a suitable psychological contract.


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