We have talked about work-life conflict before – but last weekend, I got to spend three entire days thinking only about work-life issues. I learned so much and it was really a great opportunity. The conference that I attended was the Work-Family Researchers Network bi-annual conference. Because we always want to spread cutting edge research to you, I’m going to give you a summary of what I learned about work, life and how to make it all fit!
Families are Not One-Size-Fits All in Work-Life Balance
First, unlike when work-life research first started, researchers are really starting to think about how different types of employees might balance work and life. For example, when work-life research first started, researchers referred to it as work-family conflict. However, there are other things that might conflict with work other than just family. If someone is really into a particular hobby that brings them joy, it might be hard to balance that hobby and work.
Outside of expanding the conflicts that we study (life conflicts and not just family conflicts), researchers are also changing the way that they think about family. Single people may have family conflicts because they want to spend time with their parents, siblings, or chosen families (e.g., close friends or community members). Also, there are a lot of different family types that we are starting to explore. How do work and family conflict in same-sex couples? How about work and family conflicts for recent immigrants? Or in families where a family member has a serious illness? Before, researchers in work-life balance have only examined very traditioanl families (opposite sex couples, with kids, who are both employed and healthy, for example).
So, if you feel like you have been overlooked by your workplace’s work-life policies, just know that researchers are starting to think about how to address this! In fact, a publication that resulted from my dissertation work examined work-life conflict in same-sex couples. This year, it was a finalist for the Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Excellence in Work-Family Research. While the paper didn’t win the award, it was ranked in the top 5 out of over 2500 papers that were published this year on work-life issues. It was pretty exciting to be a finalist, but it’s even more exciting to see that work-life researchers are interested in this kind of work.
What Behaviors Drive Work-Life Balance?
Second, we know a lot about what makes work and family conflict. But, we don’t know a lot about what makes work and family fit well together. We know what causes conflict and we know how to tell people to avoid conflict. But, we don’t know much about how to tell people how to make balance happen. So, researchers are starting to focus on understanding the specific actions that make employees feel more balanced. In fact, I’m doing some studies on this topic right now. I’ll keep you posted!
It would also be great to hear from you about what works for you in balancing work and life. It can be something small, like having a shared calendar with your friends or family. Or it could be something big, like not taking meetings before or after a certain time each day. These are the kinds of specific strategies that we need to know more about and that researchers are trying to study.
Is Work-Life Balance Just a Millennial Craze?
Finally, researchers are trying to understand how younger generations are thinking about work and life. This way, employers can match their offerings with employee expectations. It’s not necessarily the case that Millennials have needs that are different from the needs that other generations have. Most of the work-life programs that Millennials enjoy actually have positive effects for everyone, across generations (e.g., having flexibility to work from home).
The biggest difference may be that Millennials are living in a time when a greater number of companies have these offerings available. So, it may not be that Millennials “require” these programs more than any other generation. Millennials might just be more likely to expect that these programs will be offered. Understanding how generational differences and work-life expectations are related still needs to be studied more. But, research generally shows that employers should take notes when Millennials discuss what they expect. When companies are stuck in the way things have always been, it’s likely to hurt everyone, even non-Millennials. Everyone likes having the ability to balance work and life the way they want to. So, offering that flexibility is usually a win-win.
Final Thoughts on Work-Life Balance
Overall, I had a great time at the conference. I hope that my recap helps to give you a sneak peek of what is coming on the horizon for work-life practices. Do you feel like your company thinks about family in a narrow way? Are you struggling because you don’t know how to take your work-life balance from good to great? Does your company hesitate to provide innovative work-life balance programs? Well, good news – change is coming! Researchers are working hard to find great ways for you to improve your work-life balance.
What are you doing that you feel is innovative to balance your work and life? Do any of these new areas for research excite you? Let us know below – we would love to hear how you are becoming amazing work-life warriors!