We’re all familiar with the concept of ‘work-life balance’. In theory, it’s an enabler to people enjoying balanced lifestyles, and impacts colleague productivity, engagement, output, and retention. As a concept, work-life balance has most definitely put us on the right track; yet as hybrid and flexible working has matured and become more well practiced, I’d suggest the traditional notion of work-life balance is somewhat flawed.

For many of us, work and life are no longer mutually exclusive entities – the lines have blurred. Our changing attitudes towards work, aided by advances in technology, mean that work and life are interwoven like never before, and many of us prefer a lifestyle where work is personalised to our own wants and needs. In addition, the concept of work-life balance has often been orientated around the notion of ‘traditional’ families and isn’t always inclusive of those from more diverse backgrounds or with circumstances that are not universally applicable.

For instance, as businesses, we have provisions to cover typical circle of life events such as maternity leave, paternity leave, bereavement etc. But what about those struggling to have children? Or those trying to navigate the complexities of becoming parents for the first time? What about caring for elderly relations? What are we doing for them?

We also need to think about whether our policies are gender neutral or whether the ‘work-life’ concept has skewed these in favour of historic, societal norms. For example, Dr Jasmine Kelland, a Lecturer in Human Resource Management at the University of Plymouth, has identified what she terms the ‘fatherhood forfeit’. Her research indicates that those fathers who try to obtain roles designed to accommodate caregiving, such as part-time opportunities, are often treated discriminately and with suspicion around their pursuit of so-called, work-life balance.

So, what’s the answer? In my view, we need to reimagine work-life balance in favour of work-life integration or work-life harmony. A recognition that everyone is unique, and the goal is to allow our people to create a fulfilling life with work as a central, integrated component, whatever that looks like to them.

Martin Norris, Head of Recruitment