Friday, October 3, 2008 Weekly: You want acronyms? How about WLB, WLC and WLI?

I have (unsuccessfully) been trying to do some research into generational differences on what exactly constitutes Work-Life Balance (WLB). Well that’s not entirely true, I found this but to be honest it was a tad technical for my purposes.

What I am interested in is how people conceptualize WLB. Despite not being a large proponent of “generational issues” in the workplace, my interest in WLB stems mostly from what could be considered generational understandings of it. That being said, if we surveyed public servants on the subject I would hazard to guess that the responses would be consistent among tenures (i.e. lengths of service inside the federal government / exposure to the work culture), which is why they may masquerade as generational views. Vapid speculation perhaps, but lets start from there and move outwards.

Officially I found two GoC websites that have information on WLB:

1. Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC)
2. Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety (which is a federal agency)

[Related: TBS’s Telework Policy]

From HRSDC’s website:

Work-Life Balance (WLB) is a term that refers to the desire on the part of both employees and employers to achieve a balance between workplace obligations and personal responsibilities. Work-Life Conflict (WLC) occurs when the cumulative demands of work and non-work roles are incompatible in some respect so that participation in one role is made more difficult by participation in the other.

Interesting definition: a desire to achieve balance. However, what I find even more interesting is that the focus shifts abruptly to Work-Life Conflict (WLC). I can only assume that WLC is the antithesis of WLB.

HRSDC’s website continues:

Sometimes described as having too much to do and too little time to do it, role overload is a term that is sometimes used as a means of examining the conditions that give rise to WLC. WLC has three components:

1. Role overload;
2. Work to family interference (i.e. long work hours limit an employee’s ability to participate in family roles); and
3. Family interferes with work (i.e. family demands prevent attendance at work).

Considering all of the above at its most basic level, WLB really only has to do with two things: (1) too much work, and (2) family.

Given, we have families, but many new recruits don’t in the typical “2.5 kids and a white picket fence” kind of way. I suppose one could make an argument in favour of a more liberal application of the word family given that people generally consider their family life to be their “not at work” life.

That, or the new recruits is actually one of those 2.5 kids, still living in their parents house with the white picket fence. Invoking the term ‘family’ carries a great deal of assumptions about the status and age of public servants.

Further – it risks marginalizing people who don’t have families. Like taking your kids to play hockey is legit. Whereas going to play hockey (say as part of the GCWCC) is not so legit.

In my travels through the Internet on the Google train I came across this little gem, which turned me on to the term Work-Life Integration (WLI) (reproduced from above link, follow it there is more to the article then the snippet below):

Work-life integration

Rather than work-life balance, Reynolds says she seeks "work-life integration".

"I don't see any issues communicating with friends during work, or multi-tasking, as long as I get the job done," she adds.

So what does Generation Y do for HR? Aren't they just sitting around e-mailing, texting, Facebook-ing and MSN-ing their mates about the latest cyber party when they should be getting on with some real work?

Not according to Russell Prue, IT expert at technology specialist Anderton Tiger. He believes that Generation Y is ready to solve many employers' problems, if organisations would let them.

"Young people are incredibly creative when they are allowed to be," he says. "They are driving this technological revolution their expertise could be invaluable to their employers."

Prue argues that organisations should be grasping the opportunity to harness the communication and technology skills of a new breed of worker.

"Properly implemented technologies often produce cost savings, and at a time when the focus on economical and efficient methods of communication is in the minds of employers, why not use Web 2.0 tools?" he asks.

"Companies need to make sure they have a meaningful presence in the virtual world: a shop in Second Life a profile on Facebook a company promotional video on Youtube. Tools like Twitter can also be hugely effective at improving in company communication."

There is currently a void waiting to be filled, Prue believes.

Generation Y has come to accept a dual existence with a much richer home life than work life. Young people are used to finding that the technology they rely on outside work either does not exist in the office or - worse still - is there but banned.

"They think it's madness that the organisations they work for don't make better use of the technology that's part of their everyday lives," he says.

Reynolds agrees that workplaces are woefully set up to encourage Generation Y-ers to use their best talents.

"The processes and structures in organisations generally disable the characteristics of Generation Y, rather than capitalising on them," she laments. "Encouraging informal networks, open collaboration and open communication is a must.

"We grew up communicating, contributing, collaborating and commenting, then we arrive in the workplace and there are closed networks, closed communication channels and technology from the dark ages."

Mills adds that young workers often have quicker ways of doing things than their more mature colleagues. "It is about the ease at which we can get things done," she says. "For example, finding information on the internet, organising group work and communicating with peers."

Cool – but it doesn’t actually explain (in a concise way), exactly what WLI means. So, I did some more Googling and came across two organizations who have dedicated pages on their approach to WLI, you may or may not have heard of:

1. Cisco Systems
2. Simon Fraser University (SFU)

Both of which expand the different types of programs (Cisco) and concepts (SFU) that should be included under the rubric of WLI, but again, I am looking to capture the essence of WLI.

What I am tempted to do is draw a parallel between WLI and open source. Here is the first paragraph from Wikipedia’s Open Source article:

Open source is a development methodology, which offers practical accessibility to a product's source (goods and knowledge). Some consider open source as one of various possible design approaches, while others consider it a critical strategic element of their operations. Before open source became widely adopted, developers and producers used a variety of phrases to describe the concept; the term open source gained popularity with the rise of the Internet, which provided access to diverse production models, communication paths, and interactive communities.

Here is my attempt to craft that into my vision of WLI:

Open source Work-Life Integration (WLI) is a development management methodology, which offers practical accessibility to a product's source an employee’s goods ability to provide services and knowledge. Some consider open source WLI as one of various possible design management approaches, while others consider it a critical strategic element of their operations. Before open source WLI became widely adopted, developers and producers used a variety of phrases were used to describe the concept; the term open source Work-Life Integration gained popularity with the rise of the Internet and the proliferation of social media, which provided access to diverse production models, communication paths, and interactive communities.

Not perfect, but at least this is closer to what I think of when I hear someone say that they support work-life balance (or flexible work arrangements, etc). Unfortunately, I get the feeling that new hires and not so new hires have a pretty different view on this?

1 comment:

  1. This "family" bias really gets to me when discussing WLB, WLI, or whatever you want to call it. Reference is always made to balancing one's "work" life with one's "family" life. What's a young, single person with no dependents to do? It's as though any other commitments (volunteer activities, sports, being with friends) are less valued than "family" time, and thus if one has no traditional "family" to speak of, there is no legitimate need to strike a balance between work and one's personal life. If there's no family need, then there's no justification for wanting a compressed work week, or flex hours, etc. If you have no child to pick up after work, then you have no excuse to stay late and get that briefing note completed.
    I know plenty of people who place far more stock in their friendship networks and volunteer activities than they do in their families. I think an effort really needs to be made to broaden the definitions that are being used to describe the dichotomy of "work" and "life".
    You already mentioned the need to liberalize the definition of family. I say we remove "family" from the discussion altogether.

    Thanks for writing on this, and keep it up.