Work and life: balance is out, let's talk engagement

May 20, 2021

Is work-life balance a myth or reality?

Let’s all get on the same page about “work-life balance”: is it an old way of thinking? Or is it still relevant? Personally, I think it’s an old way of thinking; it suggests that we all have an ideal ratio of work and home life that we should always be  striving for. It also implies that we can easily ‘shut off’ our work from our home-life – that work and life are static.

Pre-technology this was the case, but we know now that the working relationship is much more dynamic because of technology.

Not only do we know that every person’s definition of balance is different, but thanks to the pandemic, the ability to disconnect and take a break – or even change physical locations from work and home life – has (for some) become a distant memory. The pandemic has changed how we work, but it hasn’t stopped the conversation around what we should be doing about it.

Enter: work-life negotiation and work-life engagement, and let’s talk about why these are more realistic factors to plan for.

What exactly is “work-life negotiation” and “work-life engagement?”

Work-life negotiation is the idea that when we’re faced with two competing objectives, we have to choose, compromise, and negotiate. While balance implies there is… balance – negotiation is a moving goal, something that can adapt as we do.

So then, what is “work-life engagement?”

Work-life engagement is the output of work-life negotiation, in action. When you’re able to effectively negotiate your time and resources, you’re better able to show up and be engaged in both life and work.  

Keep in mind: we’re facing a major shift learning about the difference between work that must be done in-person (trades, health-care, etc.), and work that can be done remotely. Physical work will always revolve around the number of hours worked, whereas remote work needs to shift its focus on output of work, rather than putting in a certain number of hours per day.

The shift of focus towards output rather than the number of hours spent at a desk and logged on makes space for better planning, expectation setting, and deeper dives into uncovering barriers at work. It may even leave room for understanding engagement better. Go figure.

My employees aren’t saying they have this problem – why should I care?

First of all, make sure you ask. Invest in a survey tool or engagement platform so that your employees can anonymously give feedback. At Humi, we use the internal survey tool within our platform for insight and feedback, and we’ve invested in Peakon to track employee engagement and satisfaction. 

Second, did you know there was a Federal task force designed to investigate an employee’s right to disconnect? It’s not a surprise that the most answered question revolved around answering emails, calls, and texts outside of standard working hours. It’s not totally unreasonable to think that we will see changes (and potentially laws) that govern this, in the future. Best to plan now and get ahead of the curve.

So what should you be thinking about to create better engagement?

As managers, leaders (current or aspiring), and people-focused people, here’s a list of some practices within your team or company that you should consider.

Recognition and reward

This is the biggie – do you have a clear program in place? Do employees understand it? 

Try: It could be as simple as a #shoutout channel on Slack (or whichever instant messaging tool your company uses) to recognize team members who have gone above and beyond to setting up a tool like to reward your team. Long-term, you’ll want to include immediate recognition and reward into your culture, and as a part of your performance management.

Internal response time

How long can a message or email go unanswered? 

Try: Setting an internal expectation. For external messages (like clients), it may be as little as within one business day. For internal messages (email, Slack, Teams, etc.), it may be 24-48 hours. Assess what how you currently work, without making changes, and communicate it to your whole team

Video time vs. phone time

Are cameras always on during meetings? When do you use video vs. phone calls?

Try: Similar to response times, assess how you currently operate. But consider setting boundaries like “cameras should be on for 1-on-1 meetings, but can be off for company-wide updates.” Managers should know their teams best, but need to set expectations based on feedback from their team. In addition, consider having your weekly team meeting on a phone call, rather than video call. Use the technology we have for what it’s designed to do!

Juggling different types of meetings and work time

How do you plan for productive time? Are people able to set up work blocks and expect that meetings won’t be booked over them? How often do you have brainstorming or decision-making meetings?

Try: At minimum, you should be considering booking “planning time.” At Humi, we call it “Heads Down” time. We encourage our team to update their Slack status so we know when someone is “Heads Down”, and avoid booking over these scheduled times designated for completing work. You may also want to consider ‘blocking’ days of the week, where no company-wide meetings should be scheduled.

Calendar visibility

Can everyone see your calendar details? Are all calendars private?

Try: Encouraging transparency and keeping calendars visible, unless team members work with sensitive or confidential information. The important piece is to understand how you currently operate before changing, and if you do make a change, be ready to explain why.

Social time

How often do you meet socially? What do you give to your employees ahead of or during the social?

Try: Work with your Social Committee to offer events that are employee-led. Offering monthly socials is a great place to start. At Humi, we use Go.Rally to host social events. We also use the Slack/Donut integration to encourage 1-on-1 team meetings, and plan annual events for our team members. 

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