How we think about work is fundamental to almost everything else we do. Over the past few weeks the Coronavirus has forced us to integrate work and life. Most recruiters have had to spend some time thinking about their own employment situation and assessing its relative security, engagement and continuity. Maybe deciding if they are going to become a contingent worker or continue on as an internal one. They have also had to deal with reluctant and uncertain candidates facing the same issues.
Do you have a strategy for a good life? Have you decided what part work plays in your life, what engages you, and how you want to work in the future? Do you want to work the same way you did prior to the pandemic?
I have been noodling for quite some time over work/life balance and whether it is better to be independent or internal. Over the past 15 years or so the idea of work/life balance has swept across the corporate world. I can’t think of any organization that has not had to change policies or at least address its employees on the issue. Perhaps it emerged because more Gen X employees moved into leadership positions and were more aware of the precariousness of employment and about how quickly corporate life can swing from breakneck hiring to layoffs.
But whatever the causes, the issues involved are core to whether people accept offers, stay with an organization, or decide to work for themselves.
Work/life balance is based on set of assumptions that aren’t questioned very often, yet are very strange from the perspective of a Baby Boomer such as myself or from that of anyone who has studied or thought about the history of work.
If I were to state the assumptions that underlie work/life balance, they would go something like this: Work is something we do for money, is generally not very enjoyable and interferes with more important things like family. Work, therefore, should be regulated and time with our families should be mandatory. The work/life balance cause assumes a more or less digital world: work is on or off, family is on or off.
Yet, for centuries work and life were joined. Men toiled in fields, small shops, bazaars and at home without paychecks, labor laws, or a day off. Women and men often shared skills and children were almost always part of the working and life equation as soon as they were old enough. Work might not have been fun in our modern sense, but it was a family activity and it was the fabric of life. Most people chose to do something they liked, or at least something that provided them food and shelter and employed members of their family. Even learning was a family activity and fathers and sons often co-invented things or passed their knowledge to each succeeding generation.
The modern separation mind set is only around 100 years old and is a result of the physical isolation of work in factories and offices. It is the result of physical and mental separation from family. It is the result of over specialization to the point where your spouse cannot understand what work you do.
This virus is causing us to ask some serious questions about work and life. Recruiters are going to asked, if they aren’t already, to answer these carefully and honestly.
Question #1: If I am able to make an adequate living doing whatever I am now doing, what does your organization offer me beyond that? Why shouldn’t I just continue working as an independent contractor or consultant?
You should have a clear understanding of the contributions employees can make to society or to fulfilling an employee’s long term career goals. Every recruiter should encourage the organization to commit to funding and supporting social and environmental improvements and activities. Google, for example, allows employees paid time to work for charitable organizations on a regular basis.
Question #2: Can you accommodate my preferred work type?
Your organization should be able to flexibly offer a person whatever type of work h/she desires. An organization in touch with the trends above should have worked out which positions are critical and must be filled with permanent people and which can be done with other types of workers. Contingent work is here to stay and will be part of all organizations. Those that figure our how to use contingent workers well will be winners in tapping the best talent on the world.
Question #3: What opportunities are there for me to fulfill my life ambitions here?
Work is no longer all about the employee doing things only for the organization. It is also about what the organization is doing for the individual. Some corporations offer employees college programs in areas that have nothing to do with work. For example, some pay for things like nursing school or law school while the employee is doing some totally different type of work.
Other offer cross-functional movement and provide the training and coaching needed to make the person successful. Advanced organizations make this a significant part of the employment experience, not just a perk for the privileged few. Their corporate culture encourages development, internal movement and penalizes manages who don’t allow it.
This is the out-of-the-box stuff that will keep the best people, at least for awhile, and improve the productivity and engagement of everyone.
I am not the only one predicting that it will be increasingly difficult to convince younger people to work for large corporations unless they have more input to the type of work and the conditions they work under. As work returns slowly to individuals, entrepreneurs, small shops, and small organizations; we will see more and more integration between work and life. More spouses will work together and more children will be part of that work. The days of specialization, physical separation, and mental isolation are ending, I think and hope. We have traversed across a century of change to return to where we started.