It was a bustling day in the City of London. In one of the high rise offices of the financial center of the world, a meeting was well underway in a top-floor corner office, bankers and lawyers arguing about an important deal. In the middle of the meeting, around 5 pm, one of the male bankers announced, that he now had to leave for a client meeting and excused himself. A little bit later, another male banker also rose from his seat and left the meeting, explaining that his office needed him.
A little under an hour later, the two male bankers met face-to-face: on the side of a football field, where both their children were facing off in a football match, on opposite teams.
So why did these grown men have to hide the fact that they wanted to be present in their children’s lives and support them during an important match? Why couldn’t they simply say that in the meeting, and resume work afterward, or even negotiate the starting time of the meeting, so that it ended on time for them to leave?
This occurrence is by no means unique. Day in and day out employees have to hide their whole selves at work and navigate around encrusted social-professional norms of the Ideal Worker Type. Because we don’t stop being a parent, a carer, a civic activist, a foodie, a sportsman as soon as we walk through the office doors - we are still all those things, and being them makes us ever more valuable to our employer, because we bring a different perspective a different story to what is happening at work.
It is high time to separate the two notions, that seem to have gelled together in the past 50 years, that success means sacrifice and in order to become successful and fulfilled in our careers, we need to give up on having a happy life outside of work, alas even sacrificing our health on the altar of corporate achievement.
The challenge that employers are facing at the moment, is that through employee engagement surveys, studies and even Gallup polls they understand, that their people are pushing them towards a new world of work, one in which employees can be happy, healthy and successful at the same time, by being allowed to be their authentic selves. This would mean creating workplaces that are based more on trust than fear, that become more transparent in their decision making, and where employees have a much higher degree of autonomy to get the job done. Organizations that value work-life integration.
Work-Life Integration is not something that happens, it's something you must actively create for your employees through deliberate management practice.
What we often find, is that organizations are afraid of losing control, or their sense of control over their employees’ performance and output. Especially in the pre-internet era, this may have been legitimate, but working in the knowledge economy, there are very few reasons why employees have to still come to the office at all unless it is for the purpose of fostering a strong sense of belonging and collaboration.
Speaking with hundreds of employees and businesses, we heard the same issues over and over again. In one organization, an employee who had worked there for many years informed HR by e-mail about her pregnancy with her medical certificate. She didn’t even get a reply. Another employee in a growing start-up couldn’t access a closed space to pump and store her breast-milk. The organization refused both flexible working time arrangements or breastfeeding breaks, so she had no other choice than to stop breastfeeding. Both of these events happened in 2017. There is simply no excuse for not having the right protocol and solution to these issues, no matter how uncomfortable they are to line-managers.
So that’s why with my co-author Zoltan Vadkerti we decided to take employers by the hand and wrote ‘One Life - How the most forward-looking organisations leverage work-life integration to attract talent and foster employee wellbeing’. It’s a very practical book, that any HR professional, workplace manager, small business owner can read and pick from the vast number of practical tools and start applying them tomorrow.