Who's responsible for work-life balance?

tightrope walkerThis TEDtalk by Nigel Marsh has got me thinking.  What is the role of the organization in promoting work-life balance?  Marsh, author of the book Fat, 40, and Fired, argues that work-life balance is too important to be left in the hand of employers.  He points out that commercial companies are inherently designed to get as much out of their employees as possible, and that this orientation is fundamentally incompatible with employees’ desire to effectively balance work and the rest of their lives. The onus must therefore be on the individual to thoughtfully choose or craft a career path that allows them to fully embrace all of the dimensions of life that are important to them.  Expecting a corporation to take responsibility for employees’ work-life balance is like expecting a tight-rope manufacturer to be responsible for whether the tight-rope walker makes it to the other side.

Although I absolutely agree that individuals are ultimately responsible for their own work-life balance, I’m not sure I agree that organization’s can’t be both self-interested and also help people find better work-life balance.  More and more research shows that happier workers are also more productive and creative workers.  So it is truly in an organization’s self-interest to help employees cultivate better work-life balance.  Wringing the last drop of productivity from people is an outdated view; when people flee to greener pastures, this approach reveals itself to be short-sighted. Organizations can and should do what is within their power to help their employees be healthy, happy, and balanced – not because it is more humane, but because in the long term, it makes them more likely to attract, retain, and leverage the best and brightest.

Demographic shifts are resulting in younger generations representing a larger percentage of the workforce – generations who increasingly demand a positive work-life culture.  As both on- and off-the-job stressors also increase and everyone is asked to do more with less, organizations will need to find ways to ensure their talent management strategies – including work-life balance tactics – stay abreast of the changing context.  The days of the lifetime employer and company man are fading into history, and the relationship between organization and employee has become increasingly transactional.  In the face of this change, organizations need to be thoughtful about what they offer talented individuals to commit to and remain engaged with them.

I’d like to spend some more time talking about work-life balance, health, and wellness as they pertain to work.  I have my own ideas about what the “next phase” will be with regard to these topics, but I would love to hear from you.  Please share your thoughts: what do you believe organizations can and should do in order to promote work-life balance among employees?  In your experience (as an employer or an employee), what works and what doesn’t?