Work/life balance is a victim of the lots of talk and no action syndrome. No matter how many different ways HR professionals try to frame it – work/life integration, flexibility, work/life harmony -the bottom line is that it is not really getting any better and, in many companies, it appears to be getting worse. But talented staff, confident in their employability, will increasingly walk out the door if they can't have control over their personal lives.
New meanings of success
Instead of money and security, prized status symbols are time, flexibility and the opportunity to be creative and own your work. Nor do people want to hang up their personality or values at the corporate door. Top of their work wish list is being able to express who they are; instead of trying to change themselves so that they can fit in, they interview potential employers to see if the organization's culture is a good fit. For many, great work means doing something that benefits others or the planet. Young workers see working for not-for-profits and government agencies as much sexier than their counterparts of a decade or two ago. Older workers look to make career changes to more values-based employers. Leadership is also being redefined more holistically. No more is it only about moving up in an organization; now, people want to be respected and valued for their contributions in all human endeavours, including family and community, not only in the job.
Gender is playing a greater role than age or organizational level in determining how people feel about their jobs, what they are looking for, and how they cope. Women, for instance, are more likely to cite desires to be authentic and have flexibility as key motivators than are men. Women in midlife are looking to be stretched and energized by their work and to make meaningful connections with colleagues, while men tend to want autonomy. There is also a new career and work pattern emerging that flips traditional gender roles and experiences on their head: More midlife women are thriving in their careers and doing work that deeply engages them while their husbands have been cast out of their jobs into unemployment, marginal employment, or premature retirement. The workplace is kinder to women than it is to men. Recruiters tell me off the record that they prefer to hire midlife women because they are more enthusiastic, have greater empathy, and more desire to mentor younger workers. Yet, extreme work is meeting extreme mothering. Not surprisingly, many women, whether stay-at- homers or working at a job, feel guilty and torn about whatever path they have chosen. And they're pushing back, voting with their feet when they feel they can't fulfill both roles. But unlike their counterparts of a generation ago, who expected to have glorious careers coupled with glorious family lives, more realize they can't have it all. Older women also feel the strains and are walking out the door. But flexibility, while important, is not as significant as a yearning to make their mark in their own business or in an environment whose key values they identify with.
Not surprisingly, one of the fallouts of some of these trends is staff demoralization – ironic and disturbing considering one of the major buzz phrases in HR circles today is staff engagement. Of course, all of these trends have implications for human resource planning and organizational culture. Employers would be wise to pay attention to what is in the hearts and minds of their workers if they want to attract and keep the best talent in the years ahead.