Is work–life blending the successor to the work–life balance?
What are the opportunities and risks of work–life-blending? Is it a new concept or can parallels be drawn to other ways of working? HR Campus got to the bottom of these questions and hopes to provide some food for thoughts with this blog.
While the work–life balance seeks a balance between work and leisure time, work–life-blending envisages a fusion of private life and working life. This can be interpreted in different ways: Some companies consider it primarily in terms of flexible working hours and remote working. Other companies invest in compensatory offers, such as a gym, games corners and communal dinners, wanting to blend social life with day-to-day work. Are these 21st-century inventions? Let’s look back at 19th-century America.
1884: Pullman, Illinois, USA
In 1884, George Pullman opened the doors to his new factory south of Chicago. He had it built in combination with an entire town on 1600 hectares of land. Houses with gas and sewage connections, gardens, as well as the fresh, clean air outside of Chicago were intended to attract skilled workers. Pullman’s plan took off and, a few years later, the town had 12,000 residents.
But the town of Pullman, named after its founder, was also dominated by him. Houses could only be rented and not bought, for example. In this way, Pullman had control over the rents and wages of his employees. An economic crisis, when Pullman slashed wages without reducing the rent, ended in a strike. In 1898, a court ruling required the Pullman company to sell all its residential houses. This allowed the employees to purchase their own homes. While George Pullman was already dead by that time, the town that bears his name survives today.*
Was this project a failed attempt at work–life-blending?
Job loss ends in life crisis
With his company town, Pullman created a strong dependency relationship. Employees and their families moved to a town where their neighbours were work colleagues and the leisure options were selected by the boss. If a major part of social life is connected with the work, job loss often also results in a partial loss of the familiar social life. Dismissal is harder to cope with and tends to result in a life crisis.
Flexibility with feelings of guilt
One point of criticism of work–life blending is that companies make flexibility an attractive benefit for employees, but many companies are themselves dependent on the flexibility of employees.
If this flexibility is desired, it must be promoted in both directions. Employees can only make use of the fusion of work and leisure time without having a bad conscience once they are aware of it.
Stress due to constant availability
Does work–life blending mean that a call from a customer has to be answered even while dining with the family? Does work–life-blending mean you have to reply to your partner immediately, even if you’re in the middle of a project? The feeling of constantly having to be available, both in private life and in working life, can cause stress-related illnesses.
Work–life blending does not mean having to be available to everyone 24 hours a day. At HR Campus, for example, we would much rather have a situation where projects do not necessarily need to be conducted in the office. We believe that the best ideas occur in nature. This is why we often start projects with our customers in our Vision Center in St. Antönien. It’s often much easier to think with mountain views and hiking boots.
Trust in employees
Work–life blending – whether by remote working or flexible working hours – requires that executives trust their employees. This trust, in turn, reinforces the well-being of employees and maximizes their productivity.
Defining the services of employees
Work–life-blending can make it difficult to monitor employees. This is why executives, together with employees, should jointly define achievable goals and expectations that can be measured regardless of working hours or location. These goals also help the employees to recognize their roles and usefulness in the company.
A strong team
Compensatory offers from the company can promote team building and friendly relationships among employees. We see a team that also gets on socially as a huge opportunity for executives. It can result in efficiency, helpfulness and increased productivity. How much social life and work life are mixed should remain the decision of the employees, however, and be respected and promoted in both directions by employers.
If executives want successful work–life blending for employees, they may need to provide some assistance:
2019: Menlo Park, Kalifornien, USA
By 2021, the first phase of the construction of Willow Park should be complete. Facebook is planning a campus with 1500 apartments and houses, a hotel, retailers and parks. Most of the apartments and houses will be occupied by Facebook employees.
Facebook is not the only company that is developing a modern company town. Amazon and Google have similar projects in the pipeline.
At HR Campus, we hope that companies have learned from the Pullman’s mistakes, making sure that the employees enjoy freedom and sovereignty, encouraging them, and thus being able to make the most of the potential of each individual employee.
Work–life blending-should not become a multitasking challenge. Free time and work management can help achieve the optimum combination of social life and working life. Even so, switching off occasionally is as desirable as ever.
Published: 9. September 2019