A diverse group of SIOP members are serving as Trend Champions for the people-related work trends that SIOP members collaboratively predicted to be the most impactful in 2023. Each Trend Champion has expertise in and professional passion for their trend subject. SIOP appreciates their service to the profession in providing quarterly updates on their chosen topics.
Find the full list of topics and links to the other Top 10 Work Trends here.
The new reality of work-life integration is here to stay, but what will it look like into the future? Are organizations prepared for the need to permanently apply strategies and processes to embed work-life balance principles into organizational cultures and the way people work or will they remain resistant in holding on to the old ways and attempts to “return to normal?”
The nature of work has changed. This includes in-person, remote, flexible, and hybrid variations of work – and each of these has fundamentally shifted in ways that emphasize work and life balance. The employee value proposition is driven by the demands of workers, and worker needs are likely to be the top priority for organizations. According to a Gallup poll in 2022, pay, a focus on well-being, job security, and recognition of skills are top drivers for the future of employee demands. At the same time, an increase in remote and hybrid work configurations, technology integration and innovation, ramping up DEI approaches, and greater investment in environmental impact will be imperative for organizations to continue to address to stay competitive.
Dr. Leanne Tortez, PhD, who has studied the nature of work, its changing characteristics, and human adaptability and behavior, states that organizations which place people first, and create environments and work that fits them, will be the way of the future. Dr. Tortez emphasizes that “the line between work and family has evaporated with a large percentage of work now being within the boundaries of home,” and this is not likely to change into the future. Formal and informal expectations and norms for work, how it gets done, and how organizations can tailor support for employees at all levels and skills will be key. How can organizations and leaders best prepare today for the work of the future?
Organizational strength will be employee-driven.
Worker and organizational expectations and norms have, and will continue to, change.
Organizational boundaries must expand and adapt.
Organizations and leaders know that work-life integration strategies must become part of the fabric of the work environment, structures, and processes. Where to focus these efforts often becomes a black hole labeled “wellness.” While this is “well” intended, it falls far short of what employees and managers really need to create the balance that provides flexibility, decreases stress, ramps up productivity, and promotes motivation. Integration certainly includes areas of wellness, but it encompasses much more.
A recent 2023 PEW Research Center survey of U.S. workers found that balancing work and personal life and meeting deadlines were helped with hybrid and remote ways of working but that opportunities for finding mentors and feeling connected to others were often sacrificed. Employees who work primarily onsite may find that better relationships with colleagues, feelings of belonging, and opportunities for advancement are more readily available but at the cost of family and productivity time. How can organizations best support all employees in integrating a work-life balance? Here are some strategies to consider:
Establishing boundaries: This includes boundaries between work and life, how and when employees are available, time boundaries, physical boundaries (such as dedicated home space or a private room at work to manage family needs while on site), and mental boundaries (such as practicing downtime between work and home responsibilities). Think about ways to create boundaries that support both worker needs and organizational goals.
Rethinking schedules: Family demands, work responsibilities, self-care time, and social connection all require attention. Talk to employees about how to better schedule work to support family life, rather than the other way around. Workers often respond favorably to autonomy and flexibility. Encourage leaders and employees to create routines (such as chunking work time or firm on/off times for responding to emails), participate in activities for well-being (such as lunch time walks or a yoga class), encourage the use of time off for self and family needs (leaders can work to reduce the stigma associated with employees asking for time off), and leveraging peak productivity times (schedule bulk of meetings during times all team members can be present physically and mentally).
Reconsidering the work itself: The very nature of work has shifted. Resources have dwindled, staffing remains a challenge, and existing teams must now take on work that may have been previously done by other departments or groups. Leaders can reflect on how to manage the work itself by considering the skills and expertise of their employees toward reassigning or eliminating non-essential tasks, reassessing projects, restructuring roles, and redesigning the way the work gets done. Including employees in decisions on these creates shared responsibility, acknowledges the strain everyone is under, and empowers individuals to find new, more efficient, ways to do the work.
Leveraging technology – Organizations are not shying away from technology, but many are keeping it at an arm’s length. Instead, utilize those technologies to their fullest. HRB reports, “how employees communicate, collaborate, and connect are fundamental qualities of the employee experience, and it’s critical that employers get it right when it comes to how they facilitate these interactions with technology.” Existing tools and programs often have capabilities which can support in-person, hybrid, and remote work; keep teams connected; and foster feelings of belonging and inclusion but are minimally used or not used at all. Tech can also create efficiencies. Would it be faster and easier to put files on a Teams channel rather than a server file? Leaders should look at all technology tools to see what is helping, what is hindering, and what can be better leveraged for supporting the ultimate work-life integration.
Here’s the hard truth - work is no longer the center of the organizational universe. Recent events, from the pandemic to the Great Resignation, have fundamentally changed the idea of a balance between work and home life . Dubbed the “ new normal ,” the emergence of hybrid work, accelerated use of digital technologies, exposure of work inequalities, changes in the labor market, and the sudden need for organizations to pivot following a period of great unrest for workers and demands for change have come rapidly and with no end in sight.
Work-life balance is a multi-faceted topic that has become a priority for employees and leaders at all levels and in all settings. Organizations are beginning to take notice but most do not have the expertise or insight to address it. Improving the flexibility for employees to shift the boundaries of what is work and what is personal time has created opportunities for leaders to leverage ways to integrate both to improve employee focus, engagement, performance, job satisfaction, and productivity while reducing stress, absenteeism, and turnover. At one time, work and family were firmly separated and a clear delineation between hours on and off the job were in place. Today, the walls (literally and figuratively) of the office are often blurred, hours are no longer 9 to 5 in many instances, and roles have become more fluid in expectations of performance levels, time spent on tasks, and where and when the work gets done. This has spurred the attention on areas of work-life balance which are integral to address, including worker well-being, job growth, attracting and retaining talent, cultural sensitivity, leadership skills, and policy management.
How do we define work-life balance? From the employee’s perspective , it is the way in which an equilibrium between work and home can be sustained to reduce stress and anxiety and increase joy and motivation. From the employer’s perspective , it is how to create processes and structures that support workers in their jobs to uphold the organization’s mission and culture while recognizing the needs of the whole person. Employee well-being directly correlates to work-life balance, which is why wellness programs have exploded in recent years. In 2021, 83% of large firms offer wellness programs and 75% of employees (up from 70% in 2019) agree that wellness programs are important to them .
What does all of this mean for work-life balance? Or more importantly, how do we shift the narrative from work-life balance to work-life integration? According to Deloitte’s WorkWell podcast, “ designing a fulfilling life isn’t about balance, it’s about creating a rhythm that integrates all the key ingredients of a meaningful existence. ” The framework for building solutions to work-life integration starts with a workplace model that incorporates all key stakeholders and recognizes the triciprocal relationship between work, family, and community. It is the responsibility of the collective to collaboratively cultivate ways that work-life integration can benefit the business bottom-line and the workforce that it depends on.
Work-life integration looks different for everyone. In the next quarterly update, we’ll examine strategies for employees, leaders, and organizations to consider in developing integration approaches which satisfy both business and worker needs.
Champion: Nicole Genest
Nicole Genest, MA is the Vice President of Operations for a large provider network at a multi-hospital health system in Southeastern PA. As an executive leader, she is responsible for operational strategy, business development, and change management, as well as managing and advancing the performance of a hybrid team. She focuses on human-centric leadership through empowering others, work-life integration, psychologically safe work environments, and hybrid work processes with an emphasis on employee-driven motivation, learning, and creativity. She holds a Bachelor’s in Psychology from Northeastern University and a Master’s in Organizational Psychology from William James College. She is certified in the Fearless Organization Scan, based on Amy Edmondson’s research on psychological safety.
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