Thursday, February 22, 2024

What does work-life balance mean in a changed work world?

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Yet for many workers, this cut-and-dry barrier eroded as new technology arose at the turn of the millennium. As the internet, email and eventually smartphones found their way into the workplace, they changed not only the way workers got their jobs done, but also the shape and span of the workday.

“It happened at first when they all got Blackberries,” says Lupu. “Before, of course, you could get a phone call, but most of the time you couldn’t necessarily access your work files or anything, so it was more difficult to take work home. Now people were reachable at all times – during the holidays, during weekends with the family.” 

But rather than clawing back for these hard lines, says Lupu, corporate culture took up the mantle of overwork, and wore it as a badge of honour. “It became quite ideological, this idea that, being busy, being constantly available makes you a really good professional,” she says. “We saw the best entrepreneurs bragging that they work 100-hour weeks … There was this idea that long hours would show you were committed and a good worker.”

This emergence of hustle culture led to a de-prioritsation of work-life balance for some employees. But the pandemic shifted this outlook again, especially with the integration of remote and hybrid work. Along with enabling workers to physically set up where they wanted, and with more flexibility, this transformation also meant workers’ personal lives entered their work lives in an unprecedented way – both good and bad. And it spurred workers to become newly re-invested in separating the two.

For some, says Lupu, the already tenuous boundaries between the personal and professional were blurred even more. Pre-pandemic, workers had “different routines that allowed them to separate work and life. For instance, cycling on the way home, or taking the train and reading a book, it allowed them to calm down, get into the parent role or husband role or whatever”. But she says once commuting stopped, and people found themselves working in, or steps away from, their couches, kitchens and bedrooms, the veil between worklife and homelife was lifted.

As a result, says Lupu, workers ceased defining work-life balance as equal time spent in each place, or equilibrium between personal and professional pursuits. Instead, they began to embrace a kind of work-life integration that acknowledges the two are inextricably entwined, and endeavors to make the relationship between the two a healthy one.

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