The Concept Of Work Life Balance in Modern World

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As the name suggests, work life balance relates to the equilibrium between the professional life, personal life and family life of the individual. This is a relatively new concept being brought on by the seismic advances of technology, the stigma of being regarded as “average”, and the disruption of the traditional 9-5 work culture. Not exclusive too, but heavily weighted towards, the balance of work and family life especially with the involvement of children and family. Lack of organisations engaging with employees on the very prevailing issue of work life balance, what ensues is a slump in performance and an escalation in mental health issues and associated pathologies, undermining the attainment of the workforce.

The increase in mobile technology, cloud-based software and the proliferation of the internet has made it much easier for employees to be ‘permanently’ at work, blurring the distinction between professional and personal. Some commentators argue that smartphones and ‘always-on’ access to the workplace have replaced the authoritarian control of managers.

In today’s world of constant connectivity, are we in danger of risking employees’ wellbeing for the sake of a speedy response?

According to Harvard business review, the psychological and physical problems of burned-out employees cost an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending in the United States. (Garton, E. (2017). And then the question should be asked what can be done to reduce this extraordinary cost? Healthy work life balance is the answer to this huge expense and more organisations need to focus more on this issue if they want to see both performance figures and the health ( both mentally and physically ) of their employees improve drastically.

So ultimately the ignoring of a healthy work life balance impacts on the bottom line of business and consequently now plays an important part in the HR function in an organisation who values the well being of their employees both physically and mentally.

However many of the changes have been fostered onto companies vying to compete in this new globalised world. Europe has trended towards flexible production with many jobs now non permanent with major growth in part time employment. There has also been significant growth in self employment across Europe including the rise in subcontracting. These issues all impact on the stress for employees at work necessitating the need for work life balance. (European business p239)

There’s been an exponential growth in articles and books written on building a life that works for you. Regardless of what job you choose or what stage of life you are in there is one constant goal in the life that you choose and that is Happiness. (Bill Burnett and Dave Evans p136)

The issue of WLB has been driven by a series of changes with regards to employment of individuals. These include the increasing number of working mothers and dual-career couples with dependant children, an ageing workforce, increased responsibility for the looking after of elderly relatives, not to ignore the external pressures of trade unions on the workforce pushing for family friendly policies.

The consumer is demanding longer opening hours which requires more flexible working patterns exacerbated by the European Union legislation around working time flexibility.

Policies to encourage WLB include working from home, allowing employees time to partake in non-work activities without penalties, and provide facilities to help employees attend work such as creches.

Smallman, C. and Robinson, A. (2000) report that many characteristics of modern workplaces and work are associated with a significant risk to health, especially flexible working practices and the interaction between work and non-work. A good example of this is night work working which has been shown to lead to a higher risk of heart disease and death (Harrington, 2001)

The big issue can be is whether work is imposed on the employee or taken on by the employee through their decisions. The question is all about balance.

Effective WLB leads to better individual performance at work, lesser absenteeism through ill health, better brand positioning of the employer, less staff turnover, greater employee commitment and motivation by feeling valued.

Hogarth et al (2001) reported that flexible working practices created better WLB namely 91 per cent agreed people work best when they can balance life and work, 59 per cent agreed that the employer has the responsibility to help people find this balance, 52 per cent believed that staff absenteeism and turnover were lower as a result.

Downside for employers include; increased costs to provide for flexible labour. Working from home costs money in terms of computer equipment. Its harder to manage people remotely and harder to integrate them.

Downside for employees; harder for men without children to find flexible jobs so leads to resentment. Feeney et al study (2014) found men reacted more favourably to family friendly policies. Big variations between public and private organisations, unionised and non unionised workplaces,

There are certain careers which are incompatible with WLB. “There are thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet desperation working long hard hours at jobs they hate to buy things that they don’t need and to impress people that they don’t like”.

Going to work in jeans and a T shirt on dress down Friday doesn’t address the issue!

Individuals not governments or institutions need to take control of your life because someone else may design your life in a way that you don’t like.

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Don’t put the control of your life in the hands of a commercial corporation. Commercial companies are designed to get as much out of you as is legally possible. It’s in their DNA. Even good companies. So for example by putting a nursery or a creche in the office just means that you spend more time there. Individuals need to set the boundaries.

Life needs to be balanced. Work, relaxation, sport, recreation, etc etc. the key is balance. It’s the small things that matter. Doesn’t have to be radical. Minor adjustments can make a huge difference.

Studies from the London Hazards Centre indicate that work today is more intense than it was 10 years ago creating the need for a balance between work and life. Experiencing being over-worked, long working hours, and an extreme work environment has proven to affect the overall physical and psychological health of employees and deteriorate family-life. Britain's government recognized this reality and started making an effort to balance the work and home life of its employees by providing alternatives such as being able to use portable electronic equipment to do their jobs from a virtual office, or to work from their actual homes.

The most important development with regard to work life balance has been the growth of female employment rates (feminisation of the workforce) thats happened across Europe and North America in conjunction with the growth of service sector jobs. The growth in jobs taken up by mothers is important because they are by in large the main carers for the children (Scott et al, 2010). Yet despite the decline of the male breadwinner ideology research shows that women continue to be primarily responsible for childcare and domestic tasks. Mens contribution to household tasks and childcare has increased over time but not to the extent that women’s increased involvement in paid work has become. Consequently this has caused difficulty in striking a balance between paid work and family responsibilities so as a consequence balance has often been achieved by women giving up work at the birth of the first child and returning at a later stage often as a part time worker.

In effect children have opposing effects on mothers and fathers. Mothers end up working lesser hours and earn less, whilst fathers work significantly longer hours yet earn more than comparable groups of childless men. So women often have to choose between work or family first. This is all set against a background of corporate culture looking for more loyalty and commitment from the employee which often leads to family tension and health issues.

The availability of policies designed to help employees with responsibility to families aid the extent to which employment is easier for women including their working hours. As well as good quality affordable childcare, family friendly working time policies, such as flexible starting and finishing times, and paid leave to deal with family issues, can help to better manage work and family commitments.

Why is a good work-life balance important for employees?

Good work life balance improves mental health, and benefits the business too. Employees with a good work-life balance are more efficient, productive and motivated.

Presently around 6.5 million UK employees – that’s approximately a third of the working population – describe themselves as unhappy at work, according to research published last year.

What can managers do to improve work-life balance?

To achieve a workplace culture which promotes balance, its important that the managers themselves buy into the philosophy and importance of work life balance. Words themselves do not go far enough. It must be driven from the top down in an organisation. Training should be undertaken to condition managers to identify signs of poor balance and its effects on the individuals. Work-life balance should also be modelled from the top down. If business owners and the senior management team take a break away from their desks for lunch, employees won’t feel obliged to stay at theirs.

Good work-life balance benefits both the employee and business.


Heineken is one of a small but growing number of companies that understands why its brand is important not just to boost sales but to attract talent as well by offering beneficial work life balance policies.

It’s recent “go places” campaign aimed to showcase its global influence and the scale of the company with the aim of convincing potential employees that the company is “like no other”, according to senior director Gianluca Di Tondo. Roderick, L. (2016). Heineken is best known for its eponymous lager, but its business stretches across 250 beer brands and 70 markets with products as varied as Foster’s, Bulmers and Amstel. That is one reason its staff rate Heineken so highly in terms of the varied work. Company culture is also key too Heineken. It runs an annual engagement survey with a section dedicated to wellbeing and work-life balance, and has established principles around travel, email etiquette and working hours to ensure that balance is maintained. Small tokens such as free fruit and ensuring staff take lunch breaks away from their desk are just as important as company-wide policies around physical health and mental wellbeing. Staff are offered development programmes such as mentoring and encouraged to attend industry events, as well as Heineken’s own events, to spread best practice and ensure the company is getting the best out of every employee.

As an example of how Heineken wishes to promote its Smarter working scheme, which helps to promote work life balance, certain employees have the following at the tail end of their emails;

“At HEINEKEN we are embracing Smarter Working – I may choose to send some emails outside of business hours but I do not expect these to be actioned at that time. Please note that I work flexible hours – Friday is my usual non-working day.”


It has become apparent that work, alongside so many things in this fast paced globalised world that we now live in, is changing rapidly. The concept of work life balance is a real concern for the well being of both the individual and the efficacy of employees inside an organisation. I have illustrated the dichotomy faced by both working parents at the workplace and the negative implications faced for both men and women if the work life balance equilibrium is not altered to reflect the changing patterns of work. Technology has impacted immensely on the work life and stresses off the individual and as much as it has brought undoubted benefits and efficiencies to many businesses it has also negatively impacted on certain areas of working life.

Companies will adapt through market pressure and government intervention as I have illustrated but the idea of “one size fits all”solution is not the remedy. People themselves need to work out what balance means to them and choose ideally a career that is tailored more to the individual rather than have it forced upon them.

Work is a fundamentally important part of the human psyche with many rewards gained if garnered correctly. The work life balance model will constantly evolve and will continue to both impact negatively and positively in the careers we all wish to pursue.

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