The modern understanding of work is undergoing a paradigm shift. With rapid advances in digital technology and changes in societal norms, employees continue to grapple with the constant shuffling of their personal and professional lives, never quite achieving the desired work-life balance.
The issue deepens as the stigma around flexible work still prevails in the UK. In particular, fear of requesting flexible work often brings about assumptions of part-time working or a lack of commitment.
In this landscape, the concept of work-life fluidity has emerged, replacing the traditional but increasingly obsolete idea of ‘work-life balance’. Rather than aiming for an equal distribution of time and energy between professional and personal spheres, it highlights the importance of establishing expectations around adaptability and flexibility in handling both aspects. Let’s delve deeper into the realm of work-life fluidity, understanding its importance, application and the future it holds for the workforce.
Abandoning the work-life balance as we know it
Every person has unique motivations, priorities, and duties outside of work. Consequently, work doesn’t have to be restricted to a fixed timetable or place. Our lives today are characterised by constant change and a degree of unpredictability. Family needs, personal health, career progression, networking opportunities, or even hobbies can voluptuously demand our time and energy. For instance, some employees might want to leave the office earlier to be with family or address personal affairs and then resume work later in the evening. Others might want to work earlier in the morning and then have the time to do a school run and attend a yoga lesson. The rigidity imposed by the work-life balance concept fails to accommodate these dynamic demands.
Work-life fluidity questions the traditional work-life balance model and advocates that flexibility is not limited to work hours or location alone. It urges individuals to explore innovative solutions and work styles best suited to their needs, that ensure constant productivity. By applying an adaptable framework that allows them to transition effortlessly between their work and personal life based on the priorities of the moment, this kind of fluidity helps reduce stress, enhances productivity, and promotes overall well-being.
The ultimate goal is to discover a balance that suits the individual, empowering them to meet personal obligations without compromising their professional duties. Integrating work-life fluidity demands understanding personal motivations, values, and priorities. It requires transparent communication between employers and staff to identify ways to synchronise personal and professional needs. Companies that endorse work-life fluidity can foster environments where employees feel empowered to manage their time and accountabilities. This approach can result in higher job satisfaction and enhanced employee retention.
Work-life fluidity might entail working in brief, intermittent sessions throughout the day, slotting work between other obligations. Therefore, establishing well-defined boundaries, prioritising tasks, and maintaining a well-organised schedule are critical to sustaining a successful work-life fluidity approach. Flexibility should, of course, be counterbalanced with the necessity for collaboration, teamwork, and achieving organisational objectives.
It is also vital not to pressure others to respond to emails when it doesn’t suit them. To avoid misunderstanding, some companies encourage employees to add a small note clarifying their asynchronous work style and not expect an instant reply from the recipient. A welcome move away from the pervasive ‘always on’ culture.
For freelancers and independent contractors, work-life fluidity is particularly essential. Managing multiple clients and projects necessitates flexibly handling time, tasks, and responsibilities.
Embracing the true meaning of flexibility
Recognising the need for work-life fluidity is the first step towards achieving it, and there are a few tactics organisations can implement to foster this concept:
- Accurate Flexible Working Hours: Employees should be allowed to shape their work schedules around their personal commitments. Long gone are the days of standard 9-5 schedules; equally, a blanket approach such as a 4-day working week might not work for everyone. Finding the right schedule is the key to success, whilst ensuring that people can be present for ‘core’ hours to maintain service levels.
- Embracing Technology: Digital tools can help manage tasks more efficiently, allowing a smoother transition between work and personal life. Equally, some employees might want to take calls during their walks or school runs. Giving employees relevant access to digital tools can help mitigate the stress of being ‘physically’ present.
- Prioritising and Delegating: Learning to prioritise tasks based on urgency and importance and delegating when possible can free up time to engage in other meaningful activities. In return, it removes stress from employees juggling too many things simultaneously, especially those with more personal responsibilities during the day.
- Creating Boundaries: Even without work-life fluidity, it’s essential to set boundaries to prevent professional obligations from sabotaging personal time. But in this model, it’s even more important to block out time, visible to the rest of the organisation, and make it non-negotiable. Exercise, meditation, and hobbies can serve as rejuvenation tools, helping maintain mental and physical health.
As the pursuit of work-life balance becomes increasingly unattainable, attention now shifts toward work-life fluidity or harmony, offering a new outlook. By prioritising personal values with professional obligations, employees can achieve a more harmonious work-life flow, resulting in better life satisfaction and overall wellbeing. Ultimately, it’s a win-win situation for both an organisation and the workforce.
Charlotte Gregson is the UK Country Head at Malt, an end-to-end talent marketplace that allows companies across the UK and Europe to source and manage freelance talent from consulting, tech/digital, data and creative professions. With over a decade focused on cross-sector talent management, she has specialised in building network businesses to place independent talent; most recently, she led CoMatch's UK division (acquired by Malt in 2022).