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Blending work and life

Siobhan Robinson-Morris

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Within recent years, there has been a lot of concern and research into the concept of striking a balance between work and life outside of the workplace.
Too many times we hear people saying they are too busy to break for lunch, or witness people lugging their laptops and files out of the office to work on projects at home.
We have all heard the stories of the people who worked so often that they missed milestones in their children’s lives or whose relationship suffered because they are always glued to their phone or computer in order to get the job done.
However, many people question if there is really an issue.
Is it just that people waste so much time during the day that they are forced to play catch up during their leisure time? Are we not working smart? Or do researchers have a point when they state that achieving the balance between our jobs and our other responsibilities and commitments has become increasingly difficult?
Each side of the argument has many compelling points. People who do not believe that balancing work and personal commitments is an external issue argue that by eliminating a lot of time-wasting activities, you can be more productive at work.
Therefore, one should avoid lengthy conversation with co-workers, focusing on social media, checking online account balances, and so on. On the flip side, others argue that we are not robots and can’t sit at the same desk for the whole day and have no breaks.
They claim that with people trading and conducting business worldwide, barriers have been removed, no longer do we work in the box of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but conduct conference calls with our counterparts at any hour, or while on holiday.
Laptops, tablets and smart phones now make us accessible 24/7, and it makes us feel that it is okay to try to contact our colleagues at all hours. We send emails at 4 a.m. and say he/she will see it when they wake or “I know she is on holiday, but this urgent email will go to her phone and she will respond”.
Nine times out of ten, the individual, whether on holiday or maternity leave or even sick leave, will respond.  
This phenomena is what Ron Ashkena, Forbes contributor, calls work life blend. He argues that people are no longer fighting to strike a balance, but they are blurring the lines of what activities are done where.
Therefore, scheduling a conference call during a family vacation, or responding to email queries at 6 a.m. breakfast, is seen as normal. But how practical is this situation? I too am guilty of answering calls on off days, and responding and sending emails on Sundays.
Is this physically or emotionally healthy? Research is conflicted on the responses to these questions. Studies looking for correlations between poor work life balance and burnout have varying results, and usually show that there are other factors which contribute to burnout, including the type of family relationship which exists, age, gender and the level of the job performed.
Despite the varying research results, one thing is clear – employers need to be cognizant of the role it can play in employee burnout and be mindful that imbalances exist, whatever the reasons attributed to its cause.
Employer expectations must be balanced with employee well-being and their ability to meet their obligations outside of the workplace. Some of the initiatives which employers can incorporate into their business model include:
• Flexi-time: allowing employees who have other obligations to have staggered hours. An employee who is responsible for collecting the kids after school can come in earlier, so that they can leave earlier, or an employee who is known to work to 7 p.m. daily is allowed to come in later than other staff members.
• Gym facilities and wellness programmes: allow employees the opportunity to participate in physical activities that they might not normally have the time or finances to.
• Avoid sending emails at witching hours. While your expectation is not for the employee to respond immediately, they may not understand that.
• Unless absolutely necessary, do not call or email colleagues who are out of office on leave. Respect their personal time. Before we had this type of unlimited access, people who were out of office were unreachable, and the business did not suffer.
• Practice an “everyone should know” lifestyle. That way no one individual has all the information on a project, and anyone else in the organization can easily take over the project if necessary.
While these initiatives may not totally eliminate the blurred line of work and family life, they can help to ensure that your employees do not suffer burnout or become dissatisfied with their jobs.
• Siobhan Robinson-Morris is an industrial relations officer at the Barbados Employers’ Confederation.