Clocking Out and Turning Off

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The discussion around work life balance has been with us for a long time now, but the expectations are higher than ever and increasingly unavoidable. As leaders and teams adapt to the constant changes in the workplace, there seems to be a clear divide in opinion when it comes to what contributes to a positive life outside of work, whilst also proving to be a strong and loyal colleague. We are seeing this as sometimes a battle between generations, increasing demand for better employment opportunities mothers and better career opportunities for those from diverse backgrounds where more flexible working helps.

In recent news, Australia’s senate passed a progressive bill to give employees the ‘right to disconnect’ after work – allowing them to have better personal time, without the requirement to answer calls or emails from their bosses or fellow colleagues. It’s a law that has been adopted by several European countries such as France and Belgium –and African nation Kenya also look keen to implement it.

As expected, there have been plenty of negative noise and disputes over the recent law, but it shouldn’t really be a surprise – since the pandemic we have seen a monumental shift in the way many businesses operate, adopting working from home schemes, 4-day work weeks and initiatives that cater to mental and physical health for their employees. Flexible working conditions have given people the chance to have their desired career and an enhanced lifestyle.

Many individuals are refusing jobs that do not allow them to work from home – since 2020 many companies have provided this increased flexibility with much heralded success. Still, we see resistance by a vocal and growing minority that argue that working from home limits a person’s progress, reduces collaboration and some feel there’s no guarantee work is getting done to a level that it would in the office.

The issue doesn’t lie with a colleague’s ability to work effectively, it lies within the trust between the leader and their team, or more worryingly, between the organisation and its people.

The introduction of working from home and flexible working conditions have benefited so many more people than is perhaps realised. Many businesses are seeing an increase in female colleagues that are mothers not having to leave employment – the ability to work from home means female colleagues can be the mother they want to be, as well as have the career they desire. Before this, many women would find it hard to balance both work and life – maternity leave sometimes extended to 2-3 years and understandably, work was either no longer such a big priority, or completely sacrificed. But this did mean their return led to feelings of having been demoted or feeling left behind, an issue that should never occur, especially when it is not the individual that is at fault of a lack of ability. It’s not just the leader’s role to make sure everybody receives the support they need, they also need the backing of their organisation.

We have been lucky to work with many businesses that have seen solid progression in diversity and inclusion since the pandemic, and one thing became apparent – many colleagues from minority backgrounds have felt comfortable and less excluded in their workspace. Interviews, meetings, and general working from home through their computer has reduced the worry and occurrence of unconscious bias and discrimination often faced in the office. Adapting to workplace changes aren’t just to keep up with the times – it can provide inclusion for members of your team.

As mentioned before, there’s also a battle between generations when it comes to work – many of my vintage have maybe become a little tied to what they have always known and practiced. There’s a classic trope of work hard and reap the rewards – which sits at odds with today’s pool of colleagues that care much more about their life outside of work. How can their desired career choice give them the lifestyle they desire? How does a leader demonstrate understanding and compassion for these sometimes-opposing views? Has the workplace adopted an inclusive culture?

I took some time to discuss such things with my own team, and some friends of mine. The contrast couldn’t be more apparent – the younger members of my team were fully on board with working from home and understood Australia’s new scheme – work hours are for their job, personal time is for the individual, however they did also appreciate they also needed to be flexible. On occasion, circumstances may require attention to urgent work dilemmas or customers are in difficulty. My friends, those of a similar generation to myself, took time to understand the importance of initiatives like working from home – they tended to see work to always be separate and perhaps take priority. Many still believe, increasingly controversially, that to make it to the top, you do the extra hours and extra challenging work.

What became apparent was that many people now aren’t so focused on getting to the top role, instead, many care more about the life they will live and how their dreams can be achieved alongside a career they enjoy and feel wanted.

When we mentor or coach people about their careers, we always ask them to make an informed choice on where they’re going to work. Is it going to be an inclusive environment, like providing the working conditions that will enable you to thrive? Or will it be a little more traditional where colleagues must show up in the office. It perhaps should not be seen as a matter of good or bad, but what is best for you. We should all become so much more discerning about where we take our capabilities and talent. The real fight is for those who do not yet have that choice.

As we move forward, there are businesses that see these expectations as asking for too much – but progressive leaders can still create an environment where everyone can flourish – traditional leaders need to challenge themselves whether they really do need to see everyone so that they can be managed.

Trust your people to do the right thing, no matter who is looking.

Thought of the week:

The best leaders never have to refer to their authority.

Tips for becoming an A player:

  • Put the feelings of others first – they will always care about you
  • Never let life’s challenges kill your dream
  • Always be ready for change
  • Don’t live to gain – live to give
  • Give others a place to belong


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