This is a two-part blog post originally written for and published by Forbes.com. The second part of the post will be published on Forbes.com and here in January 2022.
The Great Resignation and related labor shortage we are currently experiencing across the country, where employees are leaving their jobs at high rates with no one to backfill, is alarming company leaders who seem at a loss for what to do.
What is causing this shocking phenomenon?
The truth is, there are many factors. Over 750K people have lost their lives due to COVID in the last 16 months and the national birth rate continues to decline. In addition, many people have realized that the way they were living prior to COVID was unsustainable. The forced slow down experienced during the pandemic gave people time to reflect and identify what is important to them. Many have realized they want more time with their families, more time for leisure activities and overall, they want more freedom.
Employees have also learned that they can be more productive outside of the normal work paradigm and so they are demanding more flexibility from their employers. “Work-life Harmony” is no longer just a perk, it’s table stakes. Employees are holding their employers to higher standards whether it be related to health and safety, DEI, or employee treatment (i.e., workload or respect). When they’ve evaluated their companies on these factors, many are simply “refusing to accept the unacceptable.”
Work-Life Balance VS. Work-Life Harmony (Integration)
The problem is the term “work-life balance” creates a false belief that it is possible to keep work and life separate yet equal. The reality, however, is that as a nation, we have now fully embraced technology and the two have not been separate for some time. Technology created a path for work to encroach on personal lives and there was no means to get personal life back. We didn’t adjust. People have been on a hamster wheel – fighting to achieve something that is not achievable – balance. Work-life integration, on the other hand, acknowledges that there is no clean distinction between the two and seeks to help them co-exist in harmony.
The Great Resignation has accelerated technology and as a result, people have realized that work-life balance is a losing proposition. It is very one-sided and work always gets the lion’s share of your time. By necessity, people are now demanding harmony. People want to work in a way that complements their lives. The COVID pandemic has helped them to see that this is possible, and now, they understandably don’t want to go back to a work situation that overtakes their entire lives.
So, how do we, as leaders create a work environment that will attract and retain talent? We need to create environments that promote work-life harmony. In other words, we need to shape business to be more human.
Below please find two ideas that will help you to create better work-life harmony for your employees. I have a total of six actionable ideas, and the other four will appear in a follow-up article that will be published next.
- Promote Flexibility & Autonomy
Flexibility allows employees their autonomy. It means they, mostly, can choose when and how they work. This kind of work environment works well with some kind of Management by Objective (MBO) and/or a Management by Exception (MBE) type of leadership.
Coined by Peter Drucker, MBO is management process where goals are agreed upon by both parties. There needs to be some regular cadence to monitoring by the manager to ensure quality and ethical standards.
MBE is mostly attributed to Frederick W. Taylor and is an approach whereby the work is “more self-directed than boss-directed.” The employee is to raise the flag when something deviates outside of the agreed plan.
These approaches give employees a stronger sense of autonomy which allow them to manage the demands of their whole lives or preferences more wholistically.
- Hybrid and/or Flexible Work Schedules
Many companies have moved to a hybrid work schedule, however, hybrid and flexible are not the same thing. Hybrid entails the expectation that an employee will work a certain number of weekdays from home and the rest from the office, and its typically still assumes the 9-5, 8-hour workday and includes mandatory anchor days. While this schedule may work for some, many employees are craving more: flexible work schedules.
A flexible work schedule goes hand-in-hand with promoting an employee’s autonomy. Allowing employees the option to work from where they see fit and being flexible with the hours they work can create more harmony between their personal and work lives. If an employee prefers to work from home in the mornings so they can get an earlier start, or work 4, 10-hour days so they can volunteer at their kids’ school or take weekend trips more often, allowing them the flexibility to do so can create an environment in which they can be the most present and productive in their current life state.
As you can see, neither of the options above is easy to implement, and this is compounded by the fact that each speaks to customization, which means complexity will go up. The days of one-size-fits-all are over. While that made managing the masses easier, it forced employees to adapt their lives. Today’s Americans are used to having it their way, and this now extends to how we want work. I have no doubt that those employers who adapt and innovate quickly to offer options that support the way that people want to live will surely win the war for talent.