Care.com

Patrick Ball @PatrickBall

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

Is Work-Life Balance Still Possible?

Somewhere along the road from typewriters to smart phones, we lost our work-life balance and stumbled upon the idea of work-life integration. 

Is work-life balance even still possible? Or should we embrace work-life integration?

Technological advances begot constant contact, remote employees and multinational organizations. Our world shrank and our workdays grew endless -- each one bleeding into the next in a flurry of video chats, late-night emails and instant messages sent and received from the sidelines of our kids’ soccer games.

The way we work, like the way we live, has changed at a breakneck pace. And the two have become intertwined -- the same technology enables us to book doctor’s appointments, buy groceries or even hire a dog-walker without leaving our desks.

We race to do more, to do everything. We work from home and we home from work. The candle once burnt at both ends now has 11 different chargers.  And the risk of burnout increases.  

Stress, overwork and associated health problems – karoshi in Japan, where people are literally dropping dead from being over-worked, being perhaps the most extreme example – have pushed wellness and work-family issues into the public eye. The pendulum is swinging back in the opposite direction -- if not toward a return to work-life balance, then toward a modern approximation of it.

Over the past year, we’ve seen CEO dads win praise for stepping down from high-powered positions to spend more time with their families; nap rooms popping up in hip, fast-paced companies and even calls to ban after-work emails.   

Imagine a world where the boss doesn’t email you at 8 p.m. and expect a response by 8:15. Or a Sunday afternoon in which the only reason to check your phone is for the score of the game. Could this world even exist? 

Earlier this year German Labor Minister Andrea Nahles has called for “anti-stress regulation,” which would ban employers from contacting employees after hours – a practice already implemented by well-known German companies Volkswagen and BMW.

Here in the US, we’re tackling issues of employee stress and overwork a little bit differently. Leading employers seek to support employees in their everyday lives though work perks, wellness programs and other lifestyle benefits.

Done correctly, “Massage Mondays,” healthy snacks and “Yoga at Your Desk” are more than buzzwords in a job description – they’re elements of a company culture to aims to peel back layers of stress through work-life integration.  They’re entry points to a comprehensive program of in-office perks, flex work arrangements and family-friendly benefits.

So what do you think?

Would you give up holiday shopping from your desk at work if it meant not hopping on email during the evening at home? Can work-life integration reduce employee stress? Could your company be successful if your employees' days really ended when they left the office?