Care.com

Patrick Ball @PatrickBall

recovering journalist. content and strategy at Care.com. writing about policies, problems and benefits affecting working families.

Is Flexibility Killing Work-Life Balance?

Flex work? Yup. Work-life balance? Think again

Opinions on work-life balance are, well, imbalanced. 

Our latest reminder comes courtesy of a new report from WorkplaceTrends.com and CareerArc, which revealed the majority of HR professionals (67 percent) feel workers have a balanced work-life fit, while nearly half of employees (45 percent) feel otherwise. 

Their “2015 Workplace Flexibility Study,” which surveyed 1,087 professionals and 116 HR pros, also revealed that many employees spend more than 20 hours per week working outside the office.  And the majority of respondents – from both cohorts – said employees are expected to be accessible during personal time outside of the office. 

Kind of makes you wonder: Does anybody realize flex time is killing our personal time?

The study offers an interesting look at the modern workplace, but not necessarily because it highlights an employer-employee divide over work-life balance. Even more compelling may be the questions it leaves unanswered – about the root of the issue, and how we’re defining the workplace.

“Technology has expanded the 9-to-5 workday into the 24/ workday, which has made it extremely difficult for employees to have personal time,” Dan Schawbel, founder of WorkplaceTrends.com, says in a press release. “Companies are being forced to react to this work-life dilemma by investing more time in their programs in 2015. In the future, every company will have a flexibility program and those that don’t will lose the battle for the top talent.”

Technology is a convenient scapegoat for the erosion of work-life balance, and certainly it has blurred the lines between work and home. But technology also makes possible the workplace flexibility programs that employees want and employers are prioritizing. It’s the workplace Catch-22.

According to the report, 87 percent of HR leaders believe workplace flexibility programs lead to employee satisfaction, and nearly 70 percent use flex work as a recruiting and retention tool. In terms of employee benefits, 50 percent of employers rank flexibility as the most important benefit they believe employees desire, while 75 percent of employees rank it as their top benefit.

And offering flex work pays off for employers. More than half of HR leaders reported their programs had a positive impact on recruiting efforts – and that was the least of the benefits. Eighty-seven percent of respondents saw improved employee satisfaction, 71 percent saw increased productivity and 65 percent reported positive impact on employee retention.

What’s missing, though, is the complicated relationship between workplace flexibility and work-life balance.

The biggest concern employers have about flex work is that employees will abuse the system. And so, with flexibility comes accountability. In exchange for the freedom to work from home or adjust their hours, employees are compelled to give something back to their employers as a measure of accountability. In many cases, that concession is accessibility. 

Where do we draw the line on how much work can blend into your life? Yes, you can send emails from the soccer field – but please, not from your dinner table. Yoga at your desk's good -- as long as it’s not Bikram.

Workplace flexibility doesn’t tip the work-life balance scale toward life – it changes the equation completely.

If we want flexibility, and the ability to define the workplace as wherever work is done, then finding work-life balance is about achieving work-life integration.

As our definition of the workplace evolves, so too must the way we measure successful work-life fit.

What do you think? Are after-dinner emails and the occasional weekend phone call a price you’re willing to pay for more control over your in-office hours? Or would you rather keep your work and home lives completely separate?