22 März 2024

9-to-5 has had its day! But is that a good thing?

Posted in Mind

Work & Life

9-to-5 has had its day! But is that a good thing?

People who can harmonize work and personal life tend to be more balanced, healthier, and happier. But what if work-life blending leads to a blurring of boundaries that negatively impacts both employees and employers?

At 9:00 AM, my friend Kathrin (name changed) isn't in her ministerial office but is sitting in her bathtub with her laptop, diligently typing away. It's not only warmer there, but she can also concentrate better on her tasks without the distraction of chatty team members. She feels comfortable. Since Kathrin tends to fall into a mental slump after 1:00 PM, she takes a few hours off and only logs back into work in the late afternoon. In the meantime, she goes to the gym, sees the doctor, or does some shopping. Instead of lounging on her sofa in the evening, Kathrin continues writing her book, as she finds personal fulfillment in this activity. Her days are often long but seldom dull. This has only been possible since COVID-19, as remote work and flexible hours were a rarity in many companies and most ministries before.

What exactly is Work-Life Blending?

What Kathrin lives and loves is referred to as work-life blending and could become a new mega-trend. Instead of strictly separating work and personal life and assigning fixed time slots to each (work-life separation), the work-life blending concept assumes both can seamlessly integrate. This saves the effort of strict planning and separation, allowing for more flexible responses to situations and individual needs, which in turn makes employees healthier, more productive, and motivated. And because one might work an extra hour today and an hour less tomorrow, it all balances out over time, at least in theory. But how and where does this concept work in practice?

Can everyone really have it all?

For certain groups of people, work-life blending is the holy grail: single parents, caregivers, those with social commitments, chronic illnesses, or time-consuming hobbies. Instead of performing a balancing act between work and personal life, they can fulfill all their roles evenly – whenever it suits them. While one colleague might spontaneously take care of his sick child at home and start working properly in the afternoon, his colleague can finish earlier thanks to his later work hours, and enjoy the last rays of sunshine in the park. This way, it's possible to cover phases beyond core working hours while also boosting productivity. The more leaders accommodate their employees' needs, the more motivated those employees are to perform well and even put in extra effort during peak times. It's a give-and-take situation.

But what if three team members are simultaneously out due to a daycare strike, illness, and dental appointments? And what about companies where certain shifts must be covered, and remote work isn't an option, such as in hospitals or production facilities? Here, the challenges and limitations of work-life blending become apparent.

To address these challenges, transparency is key. Only if all employees communicate openly and in a timely manner about when, how, and where they want to work can overlapping interests be identified. This process – and finding compromises for scheduling conflicts and bottlenecks – requires time and trust. Time to engage as a team, and as leaders. Time to make decisions between professional and personal interests, as it might not always be possible to fulfill every employee's wishes. When one person is absent, it often means someone else must step in. And trust within the team that all members take their work seriously enough to complete it diligently, no matter when or where. This also applies to trust among team members. Only if everyone believes that all needs are equally important and that fair arrangements are made regularly, can social harmony within the team be maintained. Thus, companies with business models and leadership styles that allow for work-life blending can benefit from it. But is the concept truly sustainable?

Welcome to the new world of work? Considering the flip side

Experts are divided but caution against the potential dangers of "blurring boundaries." The merging of work and personal spaces and schedules can lead some people to work longer hours, skip breaks, and struggle to disconnect at home because they can't physically and mentally leave their "home office." This can lead to self-exploitation, as the lack of a physical office means there's nothing stopping someone from working through the night. Additionally, modern communication technologies keep us reachable at all times, even during vacations, which were once considered sacred. While Kathrin's lifestyle might work for her and not cause any issues, it could pose significant challenges for others, especially those with children or dependent family members who need time to recharge and be fully present.

In a work-life blending scenario, the responsibility for setting boundaries shifts from the employer to the employee. Those who cannot establish these boundaries, for "objective or subjective reasons," as explained by economic scientist and political sociologist Katharina Belwe in her 2007 editorial for "Politics and Contemporary History," risk being exploited further by their employers. According to Belwe, individuals who dedicate themselves entirely to their employers tend to have better prospects for securing high-paying

It's clear: Work-life blending requires significant active structuring of one's life, as well as clear boundary-setting capabilities. This can be seen both as an opportunity for self-actualization and as a new challenge and additional pressure. Employees must ensure they conserve their personal and societal resources, meaning their time, attention, and energy.

Whether it leads to self-actualization, as in Kathrin's example, or to pressure, depends heavily on the individual. Therefore, it's important for employers to provide the necessary support and protective measures. This responsibility doesn't just fall on companies and leaders but also on policymakers. In some industries or work formats, such as in caregiving or assembly line work, the concept is currently hardly feasible. Thus, it should be clearly communicated: Work-life blending is a concept for the service and white-collar sectors.

About the Person

Dr. Simone Burel is the Managing Director of LUB – Linguistic Corporate Consulting, a PhD in linguistics, and an author of professional books. Her work on language, gender diversity, and corporate communication has been awarded multiple times. With the new brand Diversity Company, Burel and her team are focusing on a new emphasis: diversity in all its dimensions – in addition to the six classic dimensions of diversity, they are addressing the invisible factors of social origin and mental diversity. The topic of mental health concerns them both internally as leaders and externally with clients.

Source: HumanRessourcesManager

Note: The article was automatically translated using ChatGPT-4 by OpenAI

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