According to Wikipedia, Americans first uttered the phrase “work-life balance” around 1986. The phrase is fairly common place today but the reality is that many Americans work more hours than our predecessors did twenty-five years ago. The work environment is competitive and many employees are being pushed to do more with less. While this is occurring, we do see potential change on the horizon as many employers are beginning to understand that work-life balance is important in order to maintain focused, attentive, healthy and happy staff.
How will work-life balance change in the next five years with “Generation Y” entering the workforce and 30-some“Generation X’ers” taking over leadership positions? How will employers respond to evolving expectations and new workforce demographics as older workers postpone retirement or re-enter the workforce? There are no set answers and I am personally excited to see how this plays out. What we do know is:
- Generation Y will put demands on employers to provide time for volunteer activities and to participate in the community. Emphasis will be placed on corporate and social responsibility.
- Generation X has shown that they are not afraid to work long hours but the expectation is that there will be a reward or payoff. This generation is more focused on their children and family and will require flexible schedules and alternative work arrangements.
- Knowledgeable and experienced older workers may be interested in part-time or temporary work to accommodate leisure activities. Health and wellness benefits will be a priority for this workforce.
- Employers are also realizing the importance of tapping into the pool of well-educated, experienced and professional women who have taken a break from the workforce to raise their children. This demographic will also be concerned with flexible work arrangements, health and wellness benefits and career advancement opportunities.
- Unemployment rates for men have outpaced that of women and many have taken on the role of primary caregiver for their children. When the economy improves these men may return to the workforce with a slightly different perspective and may have different priorities than before the recession. This remains to be tested but my expectation is that this group will place renewed emphasis on the notion of work-life balance.
Organizations need to start thinking about these issues now as the economy begins to improve and jobless rates start to decline. Now more than ever workforces are multi-generational which means competing demands and higher expectations. The workplace is evolving and employers are going to have to adapt in order to remain competitive so pay attention, listen to employees and be creative in how to attract and retain top talent.