In Work/Life Balance, Workers are Winning


NEXT EXIT: Tomorrow

Back in the 1970s, when the Boomer generation entered the workforce in large numbers, things were different. First, there was company loyalty. You didn't just go work for someone, you "joined" a firm, ideally for a long career of 40+ years.

Second, there was an over supply of college-educated workers, men and women, eager to make their mark in corporate America. Many Boomers determined that the only way to get ahead was to work longer and harder than everyone else. The 60-hour work week was born, and Boomers embraced a work ethic that placed work over life in the work/life balance equation.

Things began changing when Gen Xers hit the employment scene in the 1990s. They showed up right as company loyalty was being downsized during the recession of 1989-91. That’s when large corporations used “reductions-in-force” to get rid of Boomer middle managers. Gen Xers got to see first-hand that there was no reason to be loyal to their employer because folks with 15-20 years of experience were being let go.

On top of that, Gen Xers naturally rejected the Boomer emphasis on work over life and flipped the equation to life over work in their approach to finding balance. Gen Xers embraced the idea that work is a means to an end, and the end is having a life.

Recently, as Millennials began joining the modern workforce in the 2010s, we’re seeing more integration between work and life. Millennials, thanks in part to technology, feel perfectly comfortable checking emails and working at any point over a 24-hour period. But they also think it’s appropriate to update their Instagram while on company time. Work and life are forever blended.

There’s a new factor at play, though, that will change the work/life balance across a third dimension. With America at virtually full employment, the supply of workers is dreadfully thin for many organizations, industries, regions, and even states. Demand is high and supply is low. This is creating a war for workers which shifts power from those with the open jobs to those seeking jobs.

This also creates new-found power for those already employed. The costs of replacing someone will escalate as the worker shortage expands. So, both prospective and current workers wield more control and influence on how they are treated, and how their life and job intertwine.

For decades, the goal was to find a job that could “fit” into your life. It was up to the worker to find an existing position that matched what they wanted. Now, it’s the opposite. Employers need to make their job fit into the lives of their workers.

Let us repeat that: Employers need to make their job fit into the lives of their workers.

A case in point: hospitals and other healthcare providers run 24 hours a day, typically using 8-hour shifts of 7:00am to 3:00pm, 3:00pm to 11:00pm, and 11:00pm to 7:00am. Some have gone to 12-hour shifts as an alternative. If you wanted a job at one of these places you had to shape your life to fit their schedule.

Not anymore. Because of the severe shortage of nurses, aides, and others, especially in rural settings, some organizations have realized they need to develop more flexible schedules that are more accommodating for their available workforce.

Some might work 8-hour shifts, but the start times vary. Others work 12-hour shifts, but again, with a range of start/end times. In the past, the uniform start/stop times were established to make it easy for the employer to set and manage the schedule. Now, thanks again to software and mobile scheduling apps, the workers themselves can set and manage their schedules, filling available times and trading amongst themselves without a manager or supervisor engaged.

Can this approach work in your organization? Before you dismiss it, we challenge you to really think long and hard. Why do you have the hours of operation you do? Why can’t it differ? Or, at least be flexible based on the needs of your current workers?

What’s the cost to find and replace a worker? Remember, supply is limited. And, in the work/life balance, workers are winning.