Finding the perfect work-life balance is difficult for most people. Yet with increases in demand at both home and work, the need to find a balance is growing. Many organizations have begun to implement initiatives that increase wellness of their employees including more flexible hours, working from home options, and providing wellness and exercise courses at work. While the focus of these initiatives is stellar, these programs are almost always underutilized, even when employees state this is one of their priorities.
Why are work-life balance initiatives underutilized?
It is most likely because your work-life balance initiatives, and taking advantage of them, is inequitable and non-inclusive.
Most organizations believe creating better work-life balance options actually increases the inclusion and equity throughout the company, not realizing that many of the initiatives actually lead to exclusion. For example, let’s consider the option to work from home. While many employees have reported wanting this option, there are several reasons why they usually don’t actually use them.
They are forgotten when out of the office
Have you ever heard the old saying “out of sight, out of mind”? This saying, unfortunately, holds true when some are working in the office and others are not. Those not in the office often get excluded from important information and communication. Because they are not present to have casual conversations in passing, ideas may be generated and acted upon without consideration of who else may need to be involved. While this improves somewhat when everyone is working from home, there are still exclusionary practices that occur. When everyone is spread out, working from their own home, clicks and groups can be formed among those who know one another better. These individuals may interact with or message one another more often and the outsiders, not knowing this communication is even taking place, can get excluded.
Employees are seen as slackers or less committed to their careers
Whether this is an accurate statement or not, most employees report that they do not use flexible workspaces or hours because they fear their boss and colleagues will see them as being less committed to their careers. They fear being passed up for the next promotion or being left out of other advancement opportunities. This fear is even greater for women and people of color, who have historically been viewed as less dedicated, less intelligent, and less capable than their male and white counterparts. Thus, while working from home and flexible schedules seem to present an excellent opportunity to provide an equitable and better work-life balance, they result in the opposite.
They only work for certain employees
Flexible work hours or workspaces are only an option for some employees. If you are an organization where every individual in the workforce can have this option, then there is no concern over providing this as an option. However, if your organization has a set of employees that have to work in a specific location or during specific hours, providing flexibility to some and not others can create exclusion and inequities. Additionally, while one may have the option to work from home, working from home creates inequities in those who are technologically savvy and those who are not. Those individuals who are comfortable using platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Suite, and other online platforms and software have the advantage over those who are less savvy and comfortable with those modalities. Individuals who are used to working with printed copies are at a clear disadvantage for two reasons. First, they could have to transition to a different technology, making their work tasks more difficult. Second, if they choose to continue to work as they did, they will incur the additional expense of printing, paper, and other materials necessary to continue their work. Finally, there are some who cannot afford the technologies required to work from home, such as internet, a space to work that is free from distraction, and office materials necessary to complete tasks. Whether it is experience with technology, the ability to take advantage of flexible schedules, or access to resources, they all lead to inequities throughout.
It is evident that even the best intentions can create inequities if they are not carefully planned and implemented. While this is only one example of a potential solution to increase the work-life balance, all initiatives should be explored through a lens of inclusion. Organizational leaders must analyze each initiative and the potential benefits to each individual within the company, determine if those benefits would be realized differently and if those differences are equitable or exclusive. If they are exclusive, organizations should come up with alternative solutions that provide equitable access to resources and flexibility so that their staff are able to benefit from the initiatives similarly, no matter their race, gender, experience, expertise, or position.
Finally, leaders should take the lead and model the behaviors they want to see in their employees. If an organization creates the option for a flexible work schedule or a work from home option, leaders should take the lead and use these options. Their model will help decrease the negative stigma that those who take advantage of these initiatives are not working as hard or not as dedicated as those who are. Additionally, leaders should discuss their challenges while working from home to help normalize and provide additional resources and support to those who do not make this transition easily.