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The terms ‘Flexibility’​ and ‘Work-Life Balance’​. What do they really mean?

Throughout my career I have heard and tried to digest the meaning of the phrases “work-life balance” and “flexible work arrangement.”

The short answer is, that there is no one true definition for both. Sadly, they tend to be generalised as a weakness or a ‘trait’ of the younger generation of professionals in the market.

These workplace topics arose more so in recent weeks, following the requirements laid down by the Fair Work Commission The requirements specifically address therecording of overtime done by junior solicitors,and reports by international law firm, Ashurst, responding to reports of underpaying staff. It is presumed that was as a result of the extensive hours worked during the Banking Royal Commission.

In my humble opinion, Work-Life Balance is all too often generalised as a request to work less hours. The truth is that the 260 million active users on LinkedIn today probably have all, and I mean all, of their own personal definitions of what Work-Life Balance means to them. So, when a staff member approaches you with a request to discuss their Work-Life Balance, rather than scoff and recline into your leather office chair with arms crossed, take a moment to explore what their idea Work-Life Balance really means.

It could mean a change of hours, but equally it could be a ‘shift’ in hours from, say, 11am – 7pm, a request to do more pro-bono work, or a request to do more hours in a specific industry sector, such as the Not-for-profit sector.

Work and life can, in many cases, intertwine, and the potential exists to combine passion into both areas of a person’s life.

For me, I am not a morning person. However, I have learned over more than 25 years to adjust my day accordingly so my best work is done at the best time for me; between 4:00pm and 7:00pm. I dedicate my mornings to coffee catch-ups, light discussions with colleagues and responding to phone calls.

Equally, the concept of Flexible Work Arrangements has, in my view, evolved into what could be classified as ‘Rigid Work Arrangements’, weighted heavily towards employees and sometimes causing businesses pain in the process. So, for employees out there, my message to you is this: Flexibility needs to work both ways. If your arrangement is too rigid, then it is not flexible. I have worked with numerous staff over the years to develop truly flexible working arrangements, including full-time telecommuters. However, my expectation for telecommuters was simple and clearly communicated; if they were needed in the office for any reason, they came in. Seldom did I experience issues with that.

So, when considering “work-life balance” and “flexible work arrangements”, just have a conversation and set expectations. Understanding an employee’s needs is the centre of gravity for effective working arrangements, regardless of the context. For employers, being open to ideas, and being clear and concise with your team on expectations, will provide greater clarity for your staff and better outcomes for team members. For employees, acknowledging flexibility is a two-way street and entering into any future arrangement with that mindset, will ensure you are not cast aside as ‘too difficult’ when negotiating your “flexible” work arrangement. 

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