In this week’s news, we look at The Straits Times’ article <<Parliament: 4-day work week among ideas to improve work-life balance here>>, and reflect how to achieve work-life balance post-COVID19.
In the Article
As we prepare to deal with a post-coronavirus world, companies and employees alike are trying to establish the new normal. The government is also doing its duties in attempting to improve the work-life balance of employees here in Singapore. Of the many suggestions made, a four-day workweek stands out. This was brought up by Member of Parliament Mohamed Irshad, who highlighted that “the pandemic has forced Singaporeans to adapt to new working arrangements within a very short period of time.” More importantly, we prepare for phase two of reopening, he urges the nation to “not return to its old ways of working, but instead build on the progress.”
Mr. Irshad then brought up various precedents in the world, such as Microsoft, which has shown that this working arrangement can increase productivity by up to 40 percent. The four-day workweek is also being considered in New Zealand, to promote better work-life balance. Nominated MP Yip Pin Xiu then discussed the challenges this may pose for those with disabilities. To implement this flexible work arrangement, employers have to adequately provide physically and financially to necessary devices and technology for employees who might not be able to afford them. This is to ensure that we leave no one behind in our pursuit of progress.
What It Means
We don’t miss what we don’t know. The circuit breaker has given us a glimpse into remote working and has expectedly raised awareness on the benefits of this mode of work. Even as we step into a post-coronavirus world, we need to make continued efforts to retain the progress we have made, both personally and corporately. However, when comparing the measures proposed with discussions in other regions, it does raise some questions. Is work-life balance the key performance indicator in a COVID-19 world?
The idea of work-life balance started in the 1980s, when more women entered the workforce and had to juggle what became known as the “second shift”. There have been many assumptions of work-life balance as a concept, but the definitions tend to focus on the “absence of conflict” between professional and personal domains. However, as pointed out by Stewart Friedman, a business scholar, it is misguided “because it assumes we must always make trade-offs among [aspects of our lives]”. Instead of chasing balance, a better goal would be to better integrate work and the rest of life. This means finding synergies, where experiences in one role could serve as resources to enrich the other role in your life. This could come in many forms, such as discussing a workplace challenge with your children and partner. That allows a better appreciation of what you do and increases empathy from your family.
Forbes brings up yet another thought-provoking discussion against our fixation on work-life balance. Instead, they advocate for work-life effectiveness. What would company culture look like if they strove for effectiveness and not just balance? Balance implies that there is a fixed way to dedicate time to work and personal needs. Integration implies a seamless flow but doesn’t adequately consider the toll on our mental well-being. Work-life effectiveness, on the other hand, aligns personal and professional priorities. This brings better clarify and focus on both. This means relooking at our physical workspaces, the type of collaborative software we use, and the way we manage team members. Though it calls for a much larger paradigm shift, it will align both aspects of life in parallel rather than forcing a choice onto us.
Which of the above sounds the most doable to you? How will you be steering your company to provide the best support for your staff in a COVID-19 world?