Work life balance ‘harder than ever’

Work life balance ‘harder than ever’

Ir is a notion born of the technological revolution that is fast becoming one of the most important benefits to Australian workers. Very few, however, claim to have it.

Maintaining a satisfactory work/life balance is more difficult than ever, with exclusive research, commissioned by CareerOne, finding 81 per cent of Australian workers believe it is becoming harder to do so.

The Galaxy poll of more than 800 people reveals men are more likely to have a good work/life balance than women, while Generation X workers find it themost difficult to achieve a satisfactory balance.

Baby Boomers have had the most success with creating a good equilibrium, however, as a nation, we’re finding it more difficult to differentiate between work and play.

The 2011 Randstad World of Work report found 26 per cent of employees who intend to stay with their employer for the next 12 months do so for work/life balance.

Health and community care employees had the most flexible working conditions (68 per cent), followed by accounting, banking and finance employees (55 per cent). Only 37 per cent of manufacturing, transport and logistics employees felt they had a flexible work environment.

Business consultant Bernard Salt believes work/life balance is linked closely with technology. He says the term work/life balance emerged in the 1990s about the same time as the technology boom.

“The whole idea started as the tech boom gained momentum, people started to talk about how many hours they were working,” Salt says.

First came laptops and the ability to work remotely. But what has had the biggest impact is the introduction of smart phones. “Thanks to the Blackberry and the iPhone, you are now never not at work,” Salt says.

Job uncertainty after the global financial crisis has increased the pressure to be available all the time, Salt explains. “People don’t feel they can take time off because they are worried about losing their jobs,” Salt says. Randstad workplace psychologist Adrianna Loveday says the traditional concept of work/life balance has become old-fashioned. “It’s more about work/life blend, where work and life are blended and complement each other rather than compete with each other,” she says.

“Trying to keep work and personal life in different compartments can be stressful.”

Loveday says the concept of a good work/life balance is different for different people.

“It’s measured by your level of satisfaction in actioning what you want in your professional and personal pursuits, rather than looking at the hours you work.”

“Some people may derive ultimate satisfaction from, for example, taking international work calls after hours. Others would find it highly intrusive.”

It is the responsibility of workers to create satisfactory work/life boundaries, Loveday says. “Be upfront, be clear in setting boundaries. Find a truly flexible employer who caters for and understands the value of a flexible workplace,” she says.

“Learn to say no and be mindful that no one can tell you how to manage your interests, only you know what suits you.”

However, according to Sydney University Professor Ann Brewer, the reality is it is difficult to assert control.

“They may feel that they have no control or choice to modify work demands to achieve a better balance due to financial circumstances or caring responsibilities,” Brewer says. “Prospective employees would need to inquire about family-friendly and study programs and similar policies before they say yes to a role.”

The good news is employers are becoming more aware of prospective employees’ desire for a flexible workplace.

“Employers are focusing increasingly on the triple bottom line, even though they may not use this term, as opposed to profit-only and employee programs to improve work/life balance may be one way of addressing this for them,” Brewer says.

As a single mother with two children, Michelle Wright was finding it difficult to fit everything into her day as a school teacher. To create her perfect work/life balance, she re-trained as a personal trainer and now runs her own business around her home life.

“As a teacher, even though on paper you work school hours, you still have meetings, extra-curricular activities and time spent at home planning and marking,” Wright says.

“As a single parent with two kids I found it difficult to get up, get the kids to school, go to work, come home, make dinner, it was really quite stressful with no time for myself.”

Wright’s business, Mishfit, is specifically aimed at pregnant and post-natal women with training times during school hours.

“It’s very flexible because my clients are in the same position as me,” she says.

“On the holidays they can bring their kids and they play while we’re training.”

She believes work/life balance is being able to cater to her family’s needs, to exercise and have the stimulation of running her own business.

THE FACTS

The majority (78%) of those who work overtime prefer payment to time off in lieu

75% of part-time workers believe work/life balance is becoming harder

83% of full-time workers believe it is becoming harder

24% of workers earning less than $50,000 are finding it much harder

65 per cent of workers perform work tasks or answer work-related calls when they are on holiday

35 per cent of employees never work on holidays or days off

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