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What does a post-covid work-life balance look like?

As many businesses return to office working, the work-life balance scales are shifting yet again. With some preferring to retain home working at least part of the time, and others itching to get back to the routine of the 9-5 office life, it is clear that achieving the right work-life balance across an increasingly diverse set of employees will continue to perplex many HR teams in the months ahead,

As many businesses return to office working, the work-life balance scales are shifting yet again. With some preferring to retain home working at least part of the time, and others itching to get back to the routine of the 9-5 office life, it is clear that achieving the right work-life balance across an increasingly diverse set of employees will continue to perplex even the most proactive of organisations in the months ahead,

This year’s National Work-Life Week, five industry experts discuss how post-covid work-life balance is shaping up for businesses across the country.

A clearer definition of  ‘flexible’ working
Working from home, hybrid working, remote working, the 4-day working week; these are all terms which organisations have typically grouped into an overarching term, ‘flexible’ working, but they do not mean the same thing. “Organisations need to take the time to fully understand what flexible working really means to their employees and take action accordingly to facilitate their needs”, explains Elisa Nardi, a career development expert and CEO of Notebook  Mentor.

“Flexible working gives employees the control to plan their own working schedule. If starting work an hour earlier and finishing an hour earlier means that they can spend their down-time doing more of what they love, then organisations need to consider being open-minded in allowing this,” explains Elisa.

Cross-sector career switchers
Leadership and development coach Margo Manning, author of The Step-Up Mindset for Senior Managers believes that there will be a surge in career switchers as people realise the importance of following their own wants, wishes, and ambitions above monetary incentives.

“Whilst money is a good driver, it is often not the main driver, it is a means to an end. Just chasing the big bucks can be demoralising. It can also be physically and mentally draining when the individual aspires to be the person others want them to be, instead of doing something entirely different,” explains Margo. 

In a new work-life balance world, Margo says that people will value roles which they are passionate about and gain true enjoyment from. “These could be in entirely different industries, sectors, departments and even disciplines,” she says.

New perspectives on time
The past 18 months have made many people evaluate their priorities, values, and work/life balance. A recent poll of UK workers, conducted by EY as part of its 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey, found that 9 out of 10 employees want flexibility in where and when they work. The pandemic has paved the way for new ways of working, so it’s now up to leaders to meet this new demand for flexibility and conscious control of time. 

“Time management is out of date. For businesses to thrive in the current climate they need to think about time in a more empowered way,” explains Carmel Moore, director of The One Moment Company and co-creator of The New Rules of Time masterclass.

“Internal shifts need to be made for external shifts to happen and to work. Leaders need to focus on designing the precise personal practices that will work for them, based on who they really are. These insights can then be applied at work, home, with teams and with organisations.

It’s now time to design, individually and together, the new rules of time. The businesses that adopt this and get it right will have a competitive advantage, as well as a happy, loyal and productive workforce, which is another competitive advantage” says Carmel.

A reset of personal boundaries
One of the benefits of remote working has been the ability, at least to some extent, to set and protect personal boundaries. “We were able to keep at a distance those intrusions which caused a drain on our time, brought unwelcome criticism or were just downright nosy,” explains organisational psychologists and co-founders of Monkey Puzzle Training and Consultancy, Karen Meager and John McLachlan.   

Being back face to face is, for some people at least, an opportunity to ask those more personal questions. They might think it’s all part of striking up a conversation or building a relationship but those on the receiving end are under no obligation to respond, even if they’re not overtly offensive. Karen and John believe that putting a boundary around one’s personal life or information, can be done effectively and without causing offence.

“Go for the direct deflection, don’t even start to answer. You could say ‘There are far more interesting things we could talk about! How are you finding the commute into work these days?’ It’s a fairly obvious rebuff but it’s effective.

If you feel the question is clearly too personal, you could say ‘Thank you for your interest, but I’d rather not discuss my personal life.’ Or, ‘When I have news to share, I’ll let you know’.

If someone wants to find out about your job or pay grade, you could deflect with humour, along the lines of ‘Trust me, not even close to what I’m worth!’ Or the more assertive ‘Don’t you think that’s a little personal?’

Earlier retirement
Times are changing, we are transitioning into a world that is no longer dominated by long working hours, corporate career prestige, and a life flaunted through materialism. The new era will likely see a greater proportion of workers looking to retire earlier than the expected age of 67, in some cases decades earlier.

“Flexibility, choice, and freedom are becoming the most treasured currency,” explains Logan Leckie, CEO of lifestyle & financial app, Topia, which helps Millennials to retire early. 

“I have spoken to hundreds of working-age people pursuing FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early), Some plan to spend their days travelling the world, others transition from a high-stress job into a job they’re much more passionate about (albeit lower-paid, but who cares if you’re financially free!), or others opt to pack in work and devote their full time and attention to their family.”

“The key thing is the choice is theirs. They get to wake up every day and have the complete choice of what they want to do,” explains Logan.

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