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Here are highlights from the fifth in a 13-week series of broadcasts on HR Trends, a special edition of Coffee Break with Game-Changers on the business channel on Voice of America Internet talk radio. Industry experts discussed a variety of topics that are trending in HR today, such as this one on work-life balance. 

Are the boundaries between work and life outside of work more blurred than ever? That was the focus of this week’s radio broadcast with three experts on this topic. The first panelist was Brenda A. Lautsch, Associate Professor of Management and Organization Studies in the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University. She was joined by Ellen Ernst Kossek, Ph.D, Basil S. Turner Professor of Management at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management, and Karie Willyerd, VP of Learning and Social Adoption in the SAP Cloud.

Flexstyle – does it really work? 

Flexibility in the work day brings the promise of increased productivity, improved health, and a better balance between work and everything outside of work. The HR experts on this panel discuss the pros and cons of workplace flexibility, along with the complexities of this concept, and shared these insights:

  • Work flexibility needs to be managed. The promise of working anywhere at any time may make employees think they have a lot of flexibility in their job, but it’s a concept that needs to be managed. After all, anywhere, anytime flexibility means work is everywhere people are – and it may push them to work longer hours. Therefore, boundaries need to be established for control, which allows better focus, whether it’s on work or personal life.
  • Flexibility is highly individualized. Everyone has different preferences for how they live their lives and how they work – and consequently, flexibility can be viewed as a diversity issue. Some people are workaholics or road warriors – and others like short hours and staying put. For some, working out of a home office offers welcomed flexibility, but for others, it may be too isolating, with a loss of affiliation with coworkers and teams.
  • Integrate or separate? People either tend to want to integrate work and life (as in receive work emails at home and on weekends) or they want to separate the two, where one rarely interferes with the other. It’s all about choice and the key is control. This shows up as boundary control, along with interruption management (whether one allows interruptions or not) and identity, which correlates with the individualism mentioned above in that people either separate or integrate. Of course, there is also dual-centricity too, where an employee might be highly committed to both work and life outside work.
  • Technology – helping or hurting? On one hand, technology, especially with the advent of smart phones, is making flexibility easier to achieve. On the other, boundaries may be harder to establish (unless people have separate technology setups for work and home). This is especially evident as the world becomes more instantaneous and there is an increasing expectation for immediate, in-the-moment responses, no matter where someone is or what time it is.
  • Bottom line: work smarter. For most people, it’s cultural to want to work. But even within the work environment, it’s possible to create more balance. For instance, by eliminating tasks that are not productive, people can focus more on what matters most. This goes back to the point of setting boundaries – it’s important to do that within a workday and even with technology.

The crystal ball: What will flexstyle look like in 2020?

Here are predications from each expert on what the trends will continue to affect employees and employers:

  • Lautsch hopes the pendulum of constant accessibility swings back and becomes less important. She shared that some companies are even putting rules in place that recommend no emails after the workday ends. She also hopes to see people taking back a little bit of their life outside work.
  • Kossek sees the aging population as a huge trend, with people wanting – and needing – to work longer, with phased retirements or mini-sabbaticals as an option. With global work, she believes there will be a need for more flexibility around when employees are on or off, especially as they work with offices across the world. Finally, Kossek hopes managers will bring individual work preferences, as well as sensitivity to burnout and heavy workloads, into team effectiveness so people can work in the way that allows them to contribute best.
  • Willyerd predicts that there will be even more flexibility by 2020, especially as companies use more flex workers, consultants, and contract workers. The result of this might be that people begin to piece together careers through combining things, much like individual gigs, which will allow them to think through how to create more balance in their lives.

You can hear the full broadcast on work-life balance here, including more on the role of leadership in this challenge. Listen to other recent HR Trend Radio Shows, including ones on baby boomers, workplace collaboration, technology in the workplace, and HR for startups here.

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