WorkLife Balance; Integration?
by Adam Chan
Work and Life are likened to be water and oil that will never blend. For the longest time, the Singapore corporate citizens are yearning to achieve balance between Work and Life.
Taking stock, did they achieve the most wanted vision of WorkLife Balance? One may wonder…. It is likely we have mix feelings about it.
Gradually but surely, it is increasingly difficult to claim achievements to WorkLife Balances. The harder one tries, the less he achieves. What actually goes into the notion of WorkLife Balance is probably worth exploring as most people are feeling the point of diminishing return when this issue has been discussed.
WorkLife Balance may start off as the most embraced vision but it seems to fade into the background with things reverting to the past. Whatever the vision is, leadership plays a critical role in turning it to reality. To turn it into reality, this should be a vision that is so attractive for everyone to want to get there. The critical mass i.e. the staff plays an active role in living out the vision otherwise it remains as a vision statement. So what is WorkLife Balance to most people? Does building recreational facilities within company premises means WorkLife Balance?
After a mouthful on WorkLife Balance, what is WorkLife Integration from the same context? The next sections will discuss it in details.
What Singaporeans want?
Extracting from an article in Asiaone Business on worklife balance, this is the summary of a survey conducted by Robert Walters.
In fact, the thing they want most is a flexible work/life balance. A recent survey conducted by global recruitment firm Robert Walters found that 35 per cent of respondents said a flexible work/life balance is the main reason to consider a company ‘a great employer’.
Mark Ellwood, managing director of Robert Walters Singapore, said that the survey is further proof that employees increasingly regard quality of life as their chief objective. ‘People are prepared to work hard but the trade-off is two-fold,’ he said. ‘They want to enjoy the work they do but they don’t want to feel enslaved to their work. Employers need to be wise to this, because with competition for top talent at its most intense, they run the risk of losing out if they don’t meet this increasingly important requirement.
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It is crystal clear that Singaporeans are no longer enslaved to their job. Job seekers want to enjoy their work while being rewarded for the work done. We should probably give thanks to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for creating adequate jobs for job seekers to choose from. Having more options may have illuminated this emerging paradigm of work enjoyment over work slavery. Not forgetting other statutory boards like then EDB now sPRING, aSTAR, STB, etc. Surely, these statuary boards have both directly and indirectly stimulated the job creation capability of Singapore; as a result, job seekers are flooded with choices.
Paradigms towards WorkLife Balance
The notion of work enjoyment seems to send a mix signal to the employers. In what way workers can enjoy their work? A notion that supports what the workers want from their jobs could very well be WorkLife Balance, loosely defines as striking a balance between Work and Life.
Exactly what do we think WorkLife Balance is? What ever we think it is, we behave and act in ways that are consistent with the thought (paradigm) we hold. In Singapore, what is the most common WorkLife paradigm? Below is an extract from Zdnetasia, the article articulates the underlying paradigms hold dearly by some job seekers which reflects what Singaporeans have in their minds of WorkLife Balance. Below is a question from a job seeker contemplating of switching job.
Question: I have been a logistics manager for the last nine years, and have a Management degree. As logistics has limited vertical scope, I am planning to switch to either business development or consulting.
My first option is to pursue ERP, but the concerns are:
1. It will make me restart my career,
2. I will be “a visiting husband and father”–my understanding is that during initial phase as an ERP consultant, I will have to travel both with my family and alone. If one has a child who is schooling, then it’s difficult to move family as per a project.
3.I am not an engineer.
My second option is to pursue an executive MBA course. This would give me the edge of starting better as far as placements would take me, at better positions and my current experience. But it’s costly. Still, if I take a look at the investment returns, it is very good. I am confused because ERP is growing and everyone is talking about it? Can you help me to choose the best in terms of current and future monetary and non-monetary perspective?
Career advice from the country manager of JobStreet Singapore:
You will need to examine your mindset, work-life balance, skills and prospects when you are considering a career change. Let’s examine each of the above in relation to your question:
Mindset: You have concluded that logistics has limited vertical scope. In reality, as we progress along our career path, the pinnacle gets sharper and opportunities at the top become less abundant. You will face the same challenge in any other career that you plan to pursue. The way that many people overcome this is to ensure to be the best in the field. Our experience shows that the best always prevails–they never fall out of the game.
Work-life balance: This is seriously considered as part of today’s career pursuit. In other words, people will not blindly choose a career and neglect their family life. I see that coming across in your question–that is a healthy move. Like all new career moves, we need to spend an extensive amount of time to familiarize ourselves with the new environment and getting into the details of the job. That will expense a huge amount of time/energy and to some point neglecting of your family. Please ensure your family fully supports this new venture.
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To begin with, the questioner viewed switching job as both an attractive vision, nevertheless as a road block too. This forms a paradox. It is no surprise why he has chosen to seek for external advice. The consultant has illuminated the need to challenge his mindset and his notion of what WorkLife Balance is because paradox provides no solution, only confusion.
From the above article, it suggests that Singaporeans wanted a clear distinction between work and life, which is emphasized by the word balance. When we think of the word balance, we think of equilibrium and equality in distribution.
This paradigm of the word balance has a profound influence on how we view the phrase WorkLife Balance all together. We can easily assume that harmony between work and life to come from careful distribution of time. Is it truly possible to achieve harmony when the work needs are driven by external stimuli that we have absolutely no control over? Could the underlying core assumption of WorkLife Balance for most Singaporeans is,
“no working after 1800hrs and weekends?”
It appears like distribution of time.
In the earlier article, it states;
…. they want most is a flexible work/life balance
The word flexible connotes; capable of being changed, adjust readily to different conditions, making or willing to make concessions.
The willingness to make concessions directly contradicts the notion of no working after 1800hrs and weekends. Professional who are passionate and feel the sense of responsibilities towards their careers will find it difficult to reconcile these two polarized paradigms. It is common for exemplary professionals to make progress in their personal growth relating to their career outside of official working hours. Such professionals hardly demand for compensation from the company. They simply want to do it, not has do it. When passion is the fuel, time distribution will never become inhibition.
Moreover, passion is not time dependent, it drives when it suppose to drive. If WorkLife Balance is contingent upon time distribution, wouldn’t the interaction of passion and the notion of WorkLife Balance create greater polarization?
On the macro level, it may not be whether the society has arrived to WorkLife Balance, rather it is when our paradigms can be shifted about it. Otherwise, pursuing for WorkLife Balance would end up like chasing the end of the rainbow.
Passion, Work and Life
Work and Life; both elements are equally demanding on the time we have. In order to create harmony between the two, merely by time distribution may be inadequate. Just like water and oil, they can never be mixed. Forcing the two to mix will only create frustration and helplessness.
By and large, we do things that will make us feel good about ourselves. When we become really proficient in doing something, we tend to enjoy the doing more. A professional violinist will pursue for personal mastery in playing the instrument until he or she feel as one with the instrument. When both fused as one, it is not possible to describe the violinist without including the instrument. Only passion can provide such energy and sustenance for any individual to achieve such personal mastery.
Whatever we do, passion is the renewable energy and fuel that drives us to go on and on. Regardless as parents, couples or professionals, we find the fitting impetus to sustain ourselves in playing the role we chose to play. The impetus can be interpreted in many ways. E.g. monetary gains, social values, career progression, humanitarian aid, etc are common impetus we have. Underlying all these, only passion can provide the needed sustenance to combat the fatigue brought by time and repetition.
With a doubt, passion is the element to integrate the unmixable work and life. Since avoiding work entirely is not possible, why not passionately integrate it into our lives? The next important question is,
What is WorkLife Integration?
No surprise for the right answer. It is simply whatever that works for you. It emphasizes on freedom and choices, diminishing restrictions and fixations. Although this may sound a little lame but nothing can be further than the truth. It lies in the paradigm we hold towards WorkLife Balance to begin with. To make this work, the next critical challenge is the ability to shift the paradigm from WorkLife Balance to WorkLife Integration.
Firstly, what is WorkLife Integration NOT? This requires clarification, otherwise this fresh idea will face the same paradoxical transformation as that of WorkLife Balance.
- It is not working non-stop
- It is not forgetting to rest
- It is not about increasing promotional chances
- It is not to create a workaholic
- It is not about exploiting labor
- It is not a fixation of rules
WorkLife Integration is a trusting relationship between the staff and organization. It is an exchange of freedom and responsibilities. It is aligning personal vision and the organization’s shared vision.
Passion drives both work and life. Sure there are people you have come across as possessing little or no passion in life. This largely due to the inaccurate paradigm these people hold. They may be holding a well constructed Singapore street map but trying to navigate in Chicago.
The Journey Towards WorkLife Integration
At the core, everyone wish to be able to perform his work at the time it matters most, right? Fundamentally, time is not controlled by us and this would nullify the mentioned wish, right? There are numerous books written on seizing control, managing the 24hours you have, etc. I should share with you at this point of time that I am not a proponent on the “control” paradigm. The simple reason is control will revert us back to fixation subconsciously. That is not what we want to do. While I don’t advocate control, that doesn’t mean we leave things to chance. Instead of living by a time table that most of us have failed to adhere to, let view WorkLife Integration as guiding principles towards blending the seemingly unmixable Work and Life.
Principles of avoidance are common in this world. For example for dieting, most advices prompt the subject to avoid certain food and adhere to certain regimes in order to succeed. We know all to well the chances of making it. Another common principle is illuminating the wrong-doings. This doesn’t encourage the practitioners to do better but reminding them their faults. This isn’t a fine feeling to carry especially when we are trying to climb a hill. Such principles act as laws to expose our imperfections, moreover we set up these laws only to realize we can’t keep up with them. In essence, both principles have failed to liberate the practitioners or subjects. It does little to provide any passion for us to pursue the vision.
Instead, we should create a vision that will pull us towards it. Extracting from Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline, the chapter on shared vision;
In the movie Spartacus, an adaptation of the story of a Roman gladiator/slave who led an army of slaves in a uprising in 71 B.C. They defeated the Roman legions twice but were conquered by the general Marcus Crassus after a long siege and battle. Crassus told the thousand army slaves; “You have been slaves, you will be slaves again. But you will be spared from crucifixion if you turn the slave, Spartacus over to me.” After a long pause, Spartacus stood up and claim identity as Spartacus. Another man next to him claimed identity too. Following that, the entire slave army stood up and claim identity as Spartacus.
We could attribute the response to Spartacus’s leadership. However, underlying his ability to inspire lie the shared visions of gaining freedom and not to be enslaved again that were so compelling to everyone, at all cost every slave responded by standing up, a reflection of being pulled towards shared vision.
Rallying everyone’s commitment is imperatives for WorkLife Integration to succeed. Leaders play the critical role in endorsing the principles as the beacons whilst the organization is navigating towards the vision. Setting a clear vision of WorkLife Integration can never be overly emphasized. Using widely accepted vision statements will not only be forgotten but it may even turn into a cliché. Without passion in the statement, there will be no visible actions. Since blending Work and Life is controversial, the vision statement should provide similar edge to keep the passion alive and it must sticks. Consider this; “coming to work late but knocking off early.” Isn’t this a vision to go for, to be attracted to?
Any freshly created vision statement is like the having skeletons, we need to add meat for its completion. It is therefore necessary to form the guiding principles of the mentioned vision statements; this will prevent any mutation in the future. Below are some general principles that will most appropriately describe WorkLife Integration.
- Trust in return for freedom
- Leading and Following by principles
- Focus on where to go, not what to avoid
- More inquiry, less advocacy
- Commitment, not compliance
- Encourage personal mastery in every staff
These are not all there are; the fundamental to living WorkLife Integration is not applying control, setting up fixated boundaries, having thousand of guidelines, non-stop scrutiny, etc. The basis is about freedom to exercise responsibilities that is built on the foundation of trust.
Reflecting It In Work Processes
Having general principles can help to create the excitement for this new vision also the impetus for people to get committed. However it will soon fade away if the visibility of WorkLife Integration is not reflected in the daily work processes and procedures. Therefore, it is important to look into the existing work routines and make necessary adjustments to create the visibility. Here are a few examples,
- Introduce flexible work hours
- Team accountability versus individual
- Organize lifestyle related activities
- Gazette time for staff development and personal mastery
- Give recognition to personal mastery achievements
Again the above list is not exhaustive, it is important that personal choice is respected as the basis. Certainly living in the non-ideal world, it is important not to convert personal ideals into expectations. This will send our minds back to stone-age where things are as a matter of fact. As we move with time, the notion of working will inevitably evolve but the guiding principles towards work and life should not change. Let’s live a life with passion and not fixation.