In the old days of my parents, there was an unwritten consensus that your problems in life, your anxiety at home and your domestic challenges, perhaps your family issues, would affect your working life. Literally you ‘brought your problems to the office’.
Given simple statistics of how much time we are ‘at work’ today, whether office 9 to 5 or 24/7 ‘on demand’, it’s likely that the relation is precisely the other way around. ‘Work’ today shapes our whole life.
The work-life balance is a 20th Century myth. The term itself is revealing. It clearly implies that work is not life. So you have no life for most of the day. In that equation today, maybe you have a life when sleeping.
If we accept that work shapes us as a person, not just as a professional, as a manager, as an employee-with-a-role-description, then, suddenly, ‘work’ is charged with an extraordinary responsibility that has nothing to do with the job description. ‘Work’ shapes all those things such as family life, kids development, engagement in the church, or in the association, or the club.
Then, ‘management’ acquires as well an uncomfortable extra responsibility that goes well beyond the tasks, the goals, the bottom line and the shareholders. Milton Friedman’s doctrine that the sole purpose of the company is to make profit and not, for example, social responsibility, is unsustainable today, even in a strict modern capitalism frame.
The problem is how one interprets ‘social responsibility’. Corporate Social Responsibly (CSR) is interpreted by companies in very different ways with more or less emphasis on the environment, compliance, regulatory issues or ethics. Triple bottom line accounting (social, environment and financial) is a relatively new attempt to redefine the space of the firm
What do all these have to do with where we started?
OK, what if ‘work’ itself has a moral duty to enhance the individual? Because it has no choice. It has taken over ‘life’. What if ‘work’ had to do with the dignity of the human being? (as the body of principles called ‘Catholic Social Teaching’ proposes, and is largely embraced by many well beyond the borders of the Church; in fact often more outside those borders than inside). What if we had the guts to say that employee engagement, for example, is not simply ‘feeding the cows so they are happy and produce better milk’ ( as a memorable title of an Employee Engagement book puts it)? What if we deliberately, not just words and cheap branding, put ‘human’ as an adjective of the company? What if ‘work-life balance’ is today better life through better work?
Would those people thinking like that (managers, CEOs, HR heads) be called lunatics, dreamers or, I am sure if you are in some parts of the world ‘socialists’ (which is a very serious indictment, very serious, a very serious one, let’s called tremendous)
Until we solve all those ‘ifs’, I think that it would not hurt to reflect a bit. I, for one, am not putting up anymore with the equation ‘high employee engagement delivers better productivity’ because I find the logic insulting. I have always defended the view that if you want high employee engagement, you’d better run a successful company, you’ll see how many people you’ll engage. Engagement for me is an output, not an input. A conversation for another day.
Rambling, that is, I know.