The American psychologist Lillian Moller Gilbreth was the first academic to write about an explicit connection between time, motion, and fatigue. She wrote many books and papers in this field and is considered to be a pioneer of industrial and organisational psychology. Her work created the idea of a â€˜work-life balanceâ€™ and itâ€™s almost half a century since she died.
As most people know, managing a work-life balance can be complex. The equilibrium between your personal life and your employment affects both these areas and over the past few decades an entire industry has been created, focusing on happiness at work and how to achieve the right levels of rest and leisure time balanced with efforts at work.
Work-life balance is a subject that many employers and employees have aspired to for many years. Employers believe that their employees will be more productive and engaged if this balance is improved and employees generally agree – but with so much focus on this area and such a long history of analysis, why is it still so difficult to achieve? Why arenâ€™t those Chief Happiness Officers more effective?
The first issue is the number of variables. The government creates laws and regulations that define how people work. Employers create the job opportunities, and employees undertake those jobs. Each actor has their own set of expectations about what will make them more productive and more engaged. The reality of many modern working arrangements may also have evolved much faster than legislation can catch up – so there is often a disconnect.
Working from home (WFH) is a good example. Many employees were asked to work from home during the Covid pandemic and many are planning to continue, either full-time at home or using a hybrid model where they sometimes visit the office and sometimes stay at home. But WFH needs some preparation, so why is a desk and chair considered to be tax deductible and yet Internet access is not?
In the past year, the British tax agency HMRC has been flooded with people asking for tax deductions for all the purchases they were forced to make to ensure that their home working environment is safe, secure, and allows them to work productively.
The government doesnâ€™t have a simple answer to these questions because nobody really expected such a dramatic shift to home working, but now we can see that many people intend to remain working from home, some clear guidance and regulations would be welcome. Government agencies, employers, and employees all need to work together to define how the future of work is going to look.
At SensÃ©e, we believe that one of the fundamental changes is around personal control or â€˜agencyâ€™ as the psychologists would define it. All our teams work at home, but they are not expected to work 8 hours a day from Monday to Friday. We empower them to self-schedule their work hours, providing greater control and flexibility to blend their personal life around work. This could be as simple as taking a couple of hours off in the afternoon to pick up the kids from school and then logging in later for a shift once everyone at home has been fed.
It sounds simple, but companies cannot just offer this flexibility overnight. Itâ€™s not just the fact that someone works from home that defines their job as flexible, it is also how the employer allows the employee to manage some of the parameters around when and where they are working. This idea of flexible workforce management is where the process can really evolve and improve – both for employers (who can benefit from higher employee engagement and productivity, and lower attrition) and employees (who frequently cite a better work-life balance as well as benefitting by losing the travel to and from work).
Work-life balance studies have been taking place for almost a century, but at the end of the day it is not working from home alone that creates flexibility. Employers and governments need to recognise this if we are going to create a new framework for how modern companies operate and look after their people.