Balance vs agility – and how to achieve it

The word on the street is that there is a new buzz word hanging around the Human Resource town. Apparently the phrase “work/life balance” has been replaced by a more realistic alternative – “work/life agility” (sometimes also called “life/career integration”).

Work/life balance is about effectively managing and juggling the competing demands of paid work and non-paid work related activities but, as it turns out, many of us haven’t managed to strike the perfect balance.

Instead, the term “agility” recognises that attempting to achieve balance in all areas of life is not always possible, and that in trying to achieve such balance, people are becoming more stressed and anxious in the pursuit of balance, particularly when they fail to achieve it. The point has been made that there is no “balancing” without stress, since the demands of life will always be pulling us one way or another. Agility, however, tends to come with less stress or personal retribution and overthought, because it involves making a definitive decision as to the sequence of actions taken, or the emphasis to be placed on competing demands. Central to the success of this, however, is the acceptance that there will always be trade-offs, and people must be encouraged to be comfortable with their decision’s and the consequences of those trade offs.

The transition from a focus on balance, to agility, is an attempt to reduce the anxiety and stress individuals are experiencing as a result of not finding balance, by allowing and accepting the reality that life’s competing priorities are not always going to be afforded equal care, time and attention. It is the realisation that, actually, balance is not, for the majority of us, possible, and that sometimes, work will have to come first, sometimes family comes first, and sometimes an individual’s own self will need to take centre stage. Sometimes two of the three will merit greater attention, and on other occasions, completely different and unexpected considerations will win out.

There is no set formula. And, with that, we can all breath a sigh of relief.

Why is it being agile important?

Studies have shown that work/life balance (now work/life agility) is good for individuals and good for business, particularly as the nature of the “work-place” is changing with the increase in flexible working arrangements and swift technological advancements. Some of these benefits include:

  • Finding and retaining good staff (i.e. future proofing your business by becoming an ‘employer of choice’);
  • Staying up to date with workplace developments, trends and employee expectations;
  • Getting the best out of your staff, ensuring that they fulfil their potential and are rewarded by their work while maximising productivity and client satisfaction;
  • Improving employee health and wellbeing by reducing burnout and underperformance (and the guilt which results from that); and
  • Building a supportive workplace in which employees value and trust each other leading to an increase in employee positivity.

How do you help your employees achieve work/life agility?

There are a few key concepts which employers and employees alike will need to get their head around before they can succeed in executing or increasing work/life agility, and there are a number of immediate and slow-burn actions an employer can look to implement to assist their employees in achieving work /life agility.

Short term actions which an employer can implement to improve employee work/life agility include:

  • Start using and acting out the lingo. This could involve introducing a work/life agility policy or holding awareness information sessions.
  • Set an example – the pursuit for work/life agility must start at the top. This means challenging the barriers or the norm and taking your full, designated lunch break, taking a sick day when you’re unwell, managing your time, only responding to work related calls or emails during work hours, not putting implied or express expectations on your employees to work late or during the weekend, take a holiday (and turn off your phone and emails while on said holiday), encouraging employees to take extra-curricular activities (offer extra-curricular activities or discounts), exercising during the work day and allowing employees to do the same (this may mean you need to make shower facilities available), and generally putting an emphasis on health and wellbeing.
  • Challenge ‘presenteeism’.
  • Start flexible working discussions and make it known to employees that this is an option (although we recommend implementing a policy).
  • Ask your employees what changes you could make that would help them to be more agile, then consider those suggestions and implement if possible.

Long term actions which an employer can look to introduce to improve employee work/life agility include:

  • Consider having an unpaid leave policy if you don’t already have one. This doesn’t mean everyone will get it, but it helps to make employees aware that it is an opportunity you support.
  • Do the same for professional study, and if necessary tie it to a period of return of service so that they can utilise their new skills in the workplace.
  • Consider subsidising, or becoming a client of choice (which should come with discounts for your staff) with firms that will help your employee achieve greater agility – childcare, gyms, travel agencies, etc.

If you would like to discuss work/life agility and how to achieve it in greater detail, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are also available to provide advice on the implementation of any of the above actions, including any relevant documentation.

Workplace Law team

If you have any queries in respect of the above, or any other Workplace Law issues, please contact a member of Lane Neave’s Workplace Law team:

Employment: Andrew Shaw, Fiona McMillan, Gwen DrewittMaria Green,  Hannah Martin, Joseph HarropHolly StruckmanAlex Beal, Giuliana Petronelli, Abby Shieh
Immigration: Mark Williams, Rachael Mason, Daniel Kruger, Nicky Robertson, Julia StrickettKen Huang, Mary Zhou, Shi Sheng Cai (Shoosh)Sarah Kirkwood, Janeske SchutteLingbo Yu
ACC: Andrew Shaw
Health and Safety: Andrew ShawFiona McMillan

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