By: Audrey Adelson, MSW, WLCP
Over the course of my career as a work-life consultant I have facilitated seminars focused on helping employees understand what the term work-life is all about. As the years have passed and most employees now have a basic sense of what the term means, they still question whether it is achievable in our world today and wonder whether their employers support it or are sincerely concerned about their being able to manage their work-life. When I facilitate workshops, I often start by dispelling the myth of work-life “balance” and encourage employees to instead strive for work-life integration. This may be unsettling to employees or at least it appears to be based on my observations. Sometimes I wonder if they think I am trying to trick them, but I’m not.
Our world has changed so much over the past couple of decades. These changes are evident everywhere we look. The impetus for these changes are many, but most notably include the increasing number of dual income and single parent households, equal ratios of women to men in the workforce today – with increasing numbers of women holding executive and leadership level positions, increasing dependent care responsibilities, the aging of our workforce, challenging economic conditions, and the most significant being the impact of rapidly changing technology on how we live and do our work. Employees have greater workloads to manage. Families look and define themselves differently and often are geographically distanced from one another. What was once known as a close-knit community comprised of family, long-time residents and neighborly friends is virtually obsolete, especially in urban areas. Many of us hardly know our neighbors and scramble to find back-up care or someone to check on our house while we are out of town.
Like other work-life programs inside and beyond higher education, Emory finds itself challenged as it tries to implement a change in its culture to one that is more willing to explore new ways of working and to embrace a more flexible work environment. While we are seeing an increase in work-life programming on campus and utilization of such programs, including flexible work arrangements, we still find our community questioning the endorsement of this shift in paradigms. Cultural change is the greatest challenge faced by everyone in the field of work-life today. Identifying champions to educate others and share success stories, collecting and interpreting data to build a strong business case, developing innovative solutions to modern work-life dilemmas and exploring the use of new social mediums to communicate and promote awareness is only the beginning. Emory has tackled many of these hurdles, but as I said, it is only the beginning.
The work of changing culture and mastering the art of work-life integration takes effort from each of us. I encourage you - faculty, staff, graduate students, supervisors, managers, administrators, deans, leaders, men and women, moms and dads, single employees, etc. - to re-examine the world in which you live and work and to employ change into your workplace strategy. I encourage you to recall how our world used to be a decade or two ago along with the policies you once employed and the practices of how you accomplished things both at home and at work. I encourage you to think about new ways of doing things – more efficiently and smarter. We cannot continue to employ outdated ways of doing things and expect to see a change in the obstacles that we are now facing. We will all continue to feel the impact of this high pressure world we live in. Long commute times, high workloads, duplications of work effort, increased work and personal conflict, rapid advancements in technology and expanding health care costs to name only a few of the hurdles we can do something about through challenging the old ways how we have accomplished work. We must all re-evaluate and commit to making change, begin to have the conversation and work together. The proof is in the research and we know that change is inevitable.
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