Work-life balance - that's so 2008 (in fact it's from the 70s)

Posted on: January 3, 2012 by Nigel Thorley

Whilst most would agree that a healthy work-life balance is essential to gain the most out of employees, and of course personal wellbeing, the advent of social networking and a more technologically savvy workforce means the focus must now include work-life behaviours.

- Consumerisation and in particular social networking mean greater access to technology, higher expectations;

- When does work end and life start? The dichotomy isn't so pronounced – more a sliding scale. Enabled by new technology and different work priorities (at least for some).

Given the above we need to take an approach which is a bit more sophisticated than to say the standard working week is 35 hours (and when was the last time you worked 35 hours in a week when you worked the full 5 days??). We need to think about how employees behave in the hours they are working and what the outputs or outcomes of their labour is, rather than simply clocking up time.

Additionally we need to think about the flexibility that employees as well as employers are now demanding and consider the different cultural trends which we are now more aware of and more subject to with globalisation.


Consumerisaton means that employees are used to using web based, highly available, user-designed tools at home which bring value to their lives. These tools are creeping into the workplace, either above or below the radar, this can be great of the business but it raises a few questions:

- When is a person an employee and when are they an individual?

- If one is to express a strong opinion on a social media website, perhaps in contrast to the corporate opinion what does this mean?

- Should that person be under formal discipline – or was this their opinion rather than the corporate opinion – how can it be proved either way?

- Would you update Facebook in the way you update linkedin?

The potential value these tools can bring to the organisations is significant, but it needs to be harnessed. It should be possible to have a steer on each of the questions above – otherwise you're at risk.


The point at which work ends and life starts will very much depend on the individual, their particular circumstances and culture.

- New technologies mean that we are now always connected or near to a connection;

- Globalisation means that we are now more exposed to the time zones and working patterns of the world. Practically this may require individuals to be available outside of normal office hours; and

- Personal commitments might mean that there need to be gaps in the working day to account for non-work commitments such as family duties.

Given our new global nature, flexibility for employees and employers should be mutually beneficial, this however needs to be managed carefully if employees are not to be exploited and employers are to gain maximum value.

So what does all this mean?

Words like rules and policy seem too stringent and a bit outdated to describe our approach to the world of web 2.0 and social networking. Organisations do however need to establish some kind of framework of work-life behaviours otherwise they might experience the risk without realising the benefit.

Establishing work-life behaviours is about adopting next practice techniques (read the New Norm), the difference between "business processes" versus "Value systems". Behaviours need to

- Link with the organisations brand and values;

- Be demonstrated by the leadership and hence followed by the organisation;

- Be promoted through viral change, not mandated; and

- Measure the output not the input – what is it that these people give to the organisation and how do their behaviours affect this.

Work-life behaviours: the agreed ways of working in an organisation which maximise employee contribution and freedom whilst promoting brand, values and organisational development.

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About Nigel Thorley
Head of Mobility
Nigel is an experienced senior manager with a focus on generating business value in technology companies. Having worked in startups, public sector, and corporations he has a wealth of expertise including Strategy BUsiness development and sales Commercial and financial modelling Business transformation. Nigel is a team player but his forte is leadership. He is part of Atos’ award winning Global Talent Management Program in conjunction with Europe's top business school (HEC) in this he led a team exploring the Atos Cloud business plan. Nigel has a passion for using technology to enable change and is an advocate of social technology.

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