Welcome To The Age Of Work/Life Empowerment

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The phrase “it’s my way or the highway” dates back to the 1970s – popularized by legendary football coach Vince Lombardi. The term also speaks to how businesses operated. When I joined the workforce in the 1990s, there was one right way to work and when you joined a company, you were expected to assimilate into it.

The term “toeing the company line” dates back to the British Navy in the 1700s. Yet 200 years later, we were still operating with disregard to what it takes to truly bring out the best in each person – how to motivate individuals to achieve great accomplishments as a team. Instead, we turned a blind eye to anything that might inhibit someone from showing up to give 100%.

Outside of work, employees were also daughters/brothers/mothers/fathers/friends who juggled demands and financial responsibility on the home front with a sense of pride in their hard work. However, a new century ushered in a new way of thinking for some forward-thinking companies. As we rounded into the 21st century, these businesses began to recognize employees had a life outside the office, and events that happened in an employee’s personal life could impact how they performed at work.

With very eye-opening research done in this space, we know that when employees are stressed or feel disengaged, it’s bad for business. In fact, U.S. companies lose $4.7 billion a week in productivity due to employees dealing with financial stress.

Employee burnout was costing businesses money on recruiting costs. The term “Work/Life Balance” was coined. A term that showed up in only 32 articles between 1986 and 1996, now skyrocketed in the coming years as employees and employers everywhere tried to figure out how exactly to achieve true balance and increase workforce longevity.

Then came the advent of the cell phone.

All of a sudden, the computer and landline telephone in your cubicle transformed into a gadget that could fit neatly in your pocket. Business could be done on the treadmill in the morning…at the dentist’s office in the afternoon…or at a ballgame in the evening. As work bled into our home life, our productivity soared, as did our expectations for tools to make our jobs easier.

We brought consumer-like expectations to our work, seeking tools we could use at both work and home. With those advancements in work technology, the way we viewed work life and personal life began to blur, because all of a sudden, we became accessible 24 hours a day.

That came with its own set of issues and challenges.

While the improved connectivity connectedness increased employees’ flexibility to fit in a child’s doctor appointment during the workday and finish up the work they had missed at night, the velocity of juggling work and life caused overall employee stress levels to rise nearly 20% in three decades according to Forbes (Workplace Trend: Stress is on the Rise. Jan 9, 2019) While 16% of employees quit their jobs because the stress was too overwhelming, the worst impact was those stressed managers passing more stress down into their teams. We were seeking hyper-productivity and high-performing teams, yet creating just the opposite.

Employees were feeling a lack of control to be their best on both the work front and the home front. The gig economy was born creating a new arrangement between employer and employee. Employers published work that was needed while employees committed to as much or as little as they could. This commitment in both directions changed on an hourly/daily/weekly basis. It felt like a win-win for businesses and employees.

Research shows that the global COVID-19 pandemic was the biggest driver of new workers into the gig economy in 2020, with 12% of the U.S. workforce becoming freelancers. So it’s no surprise that as the emergence from the global pandemic fueled “The Great Resignation,” gig work increased 41% from where it was in 2016 to the first quarter of 2023. While Work/Life Integration made work possible at any point during the day, people were finding they could also live their lives outside of work at any point during the day. They had control to work as much as they needed to pay off looming bills, save for a dream vacation, or pursue new passions. The projected gross volume of the gig economy by 2023 was expected to reach 455.2 billion U.S. dollars.

The rise in the gig economy powered by new apps and technologies, ushered in even more flexibility and control for workers- especially for those just starting out. Now you could chase your dream to be an actor by day while driving an Uber at night or delivering DoorDash to help supplement your income and pay off those college loans. The gig economy unlocked a new level of control over when you work and when you get paid. As employees got paid at the end of each shift, they enjoyed the instant gratification of taking steps toward their goals, especially for the youngest members of our workforce.

The gig economy, though, by definition is a revolving door. Employees trade off a career path for the control they have over their hours and the timing of their pay. So while we solved for some of the balance we sought decades ago, we had lost a path for our future.

Last month I saw a sign in a Home Depot that read “Now hiring: cashiers, freight/receiving, department supervisors, store managers, regional vice presidents, CEOs”. This is the kind of career path that has inspired Americans for generations. After all, Oprah Winfrey once said, “Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.”

The time is now to use what we have learned over the generations to build inspired, passionate and motivated teams. The kind of passion that comes with feeling in control of both today and tomorrow.

Both work/life balance and work/life integration imply a level of juggling that is always in chaos. Advancement in work tech is shepherding a new era of work/life empowerment that evokes control. A level of control that helps both employers and employees attain their goals.

Today, employers are fully embracing ways to bring out the best in their employees to make it easier to be great at their jobs. Emerging work tech tools empower employees to be their best at both work and home. Employees are better connected with their managers, more in control of their schedules, and have control over when they get paid. They are more easily able to plan work around life and life around work and stay ahead of bills that used to pile up and cause stress.

So it’s imperative that employers take note of this seismic shift in the way we think about employees in and out of the workplace. To arm them with the tools they need to succeed. To keep that American dream alive of going from the mailroom or stockroom all the way to the C-suite. To make them feel empowered. To meet their needs where they are.

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