Since the pandemic, many employees have found that they are losing the balance between work and personal life. Similarly, employers have found that they are losing talent as the “Great Resignation” has caused shockwaves across all industries. In short, employees are choosing to reverse this loss of work/life balance. They are choosing personal goals and satisfaction above career progression and business loyalty.
This problem is extended two-fold for employers. They need to not only stop the flow of workers leaving but also attract new talent. This will help to regain the ground lost to those who have already left. This presents a unique challenge: how can we navigate the talent shortage whilst also prioritizing work/life balance for our employees? The answer lies in rethinking where and when we work and embracing digital transformation. This will enable us to rethink how we work and regain control of both our work and personal lives.
Where we work: The trials and tribulations with working from home
With lockdowns leaving many employees working from home, how we work has fundamentally changed over the last two years. This has meant that employees have been able to spend more time with family and keep better tabs on their personal commitments. For example, removing the need for childcare and doing away with the dreaded commute. As a result, this has often been touted as a shift in power away from employers.
However, this is far from true. Instead, working from home on a full-time basis has kept employees deprived of face-to-face contact and spontaneous interaction with colleagues. Whilst this may not seem crucial to worker productivity, spontaneous conversation can often drive new ideas and creativity. Indeed, working from home has fundamentally eroded the work-life balance for many employees. The physical boundaries between work and home have been removed. Therefore, no longer being able to leave the stresses of work in the office has negatively shifted the work/life balance for many.
When we work: Losing the commute but extending the workday
Furthermore, it is hard to imagine working from home without the access to technology that has kept us virtually connected. We can now have a meeting with anyone in the world at a moment’s notice. But that doesn’t mean that we have fully embraced the flexibility offered by this digital transformation. Any time saved by not traveling has been paid back in the extension to the working day. After all, how many of us can admit to never checking a work email out-of-hours, or preparing for the following day’s work the night before?
In research by Bloomberg, employees were found to, on average, extend the workday to an average of 11 hours. Indeed, instead of starting from a set time and working a defined number of hours in a day, employees working from home have often been tempted to put in extra hours before and after work to meet the demands of their workload. Moreover, the rigid lunch policies in many employers’ offices and premises are often foregone at home where employees can take their lunch breaks at their desks. As a result, the new connections and opportunities created by new technology have extended the workday, not shortened it. This itself has helped to blur the boundaries between work and rest.
How we work: Embracing Digital Transformation and Hybrid Solutions
This does not mean that this blurring of the work/life balance is irreversible. With the unprecedented success of the worldwide vaccine rollout and the removal of most, if not all, of the covid restrictions in most countries, many employers are calling for a return to the office. In the UK, a government minister has demanded that all Civil Servants make a full-time return to the office, going as far as to chastise those who would prefer to continue working remotely. But this is missing the trick. Instead, we need to learn from the positive experiences of working from home and integrate them into a hybrid model of working.
The opportunity for spontaneous and personal communication in the office and the defined hours of work offered by the clear separation of work and personal space should be balanced against the freedom to focus on personal commitments and the lack of the commute that WFH brings. This can only be achieved by adopting a hybrid solution to how we work. Only then can we help to regain the balance between work and life.
Moreover, digital technologies and virtual conferencing should not be seen as a deterrent to establishing meaningful and rewarding relationships. Instead, it is through embracing digital transformation that we can unlock the flexibility and potential that technology provides. While face-to-face meetings are certainly not a thing of the past, we should consider how we conduct virtual meetings and how as a team we can effectively collaborate in a digital environment. It isn’t so much about simply using online tools, it’s more about managing these meetings and learning to get the most out of them.
Who we work for: the shift from full-time to freelance.
Moreover, many employees are choosing to ditch the 9-5 workday altogether. Instead of full-time employment with a single employer, many workers choose to move into freelance work and self-employment. This provides them with greater flexibility to choose who they work for, and crucially self-manage their work/life balance. In a study by Upwork, as many as 20% of current employees are considering the switch to freelance work in response to the pandemic.
However, this should not bring fear to recruitment management and HR teams looking to fill the gaps in our already expansive talent shortfall. Instead, this should be seen as an opportunity for businesses to shift their talent model to one having a significant proportion of their workforce being contingent. This can be turned into an advantage for employers, with external workforce platforms having a ready supply of diligent and comprehensive talent. By utilizing these platforms, an extended workforce can drive up talent competition. This will ensure recruiters can access the best people to help propel business growth.
For employers then, we need to learn from the lessons of the last two years and not revert to pre-pandemic practices. Indeed, the pandemic itself has caused many to question their own personal and business commitments and make drastic changes in their working lives. When and where we work has fundamentally changed for better or for worst. But we can still control how we work and tailor this in ways that bring personal happiness and increased productivity. Rather than losing balance and losing talent, we should focus on regaining the work/life balance for our employees to truly turn the tide in talent retention.