“There is no plan B, since there’s no planet B”. Those are the categorical words of former Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-Moon, when he presented in 2014 in New York the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030). The sustainability of the planet, far from being an abstract concept, is a physical and material reality which has an effect on all of us as a part of the ecosystem.
In that sense, work-life balance is not just a simple coordination tool between job and family responsibilities, but a cardinal point towards a fairer, more humane and more sustainable organization of societies.
We have discussed the benefits of work-life balance for both employees and organizations before, but we must not neglect the benefits of work-life balance for society. Organizations play a crucial role in order to facilitate that said benefits become a reality. Let’s illustrate this from three perspectives: childhood, gender equity and sustainability.
Childhood: the importance of sharing time with minors
When speaking of work-life balance, we sometimes think about the right on the part of employees to manage their personal time “their own way”. But when there’s a family with children, their care acquires capital importance: children have the right to be with their parents, particularly during the early stages of their life.
Nordic countries, an example of work-life balance implementation, have two premises in mind when elaborating their conciliation policies: child best interest and freedom to choose. The former takes minors into account when developing flexibility policies, and the State provides time to their parents through time-off policies and flexibility programs.
In other words, Nordic countries promote work-life balance in order to ensure that children grow healthy and are able to develop their potentialities from the get-go. That´s why organizations should be aware that by facilitating a true work-life balance, they’re not only allowing their employees to manage their responsibilities better, but also their children to grow in plenitude.
A report by the Catalonian Government proves how within work environments devoid of flexibility policies, with a strong culture of presenteeism and managed by people who don’t promote a real work-life balance among their employees, they share less family-life experiences than other employees within better work environments. Family dinners, playing —one of the basic rights of the child according to the Convention (article 31)—, as well as reading, have a direct impact on both cognitive and social development of the minors.
It’s crucial that organizations become aware not only of the impact their decisions have on their workers, but also of a second factor, and start thinking about the indirect impact generated by each action. It’s a paradigm shift and it’s not easy, but it’s the only way should organizations want to become agents of change advocating for a healthier society.
Equity: social benefits for gender diversity
Gender equity is defined as the chance for both men and women to fully develop the roles they value the most without any normative or social constrictions. Significant progress has been made, but there’s still way ahead, especially when talking about women in the public sphere and men in the private one.
Work-life balance is the ideal procedure in order to promote true gender equity. Recent studies conclude that the use of flexibility policies on the part of men has a positive impact on their daughters’ professional aspirations, while instilling the importance of gender equality in their sons. Therefore, the availability of flexibility policies (and their use!) for employees has a direct impact on gender equity, and ultimately on a society that should seek to become fairer and more egalitarian
Sustainability: social benefits for the planet
Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), organizations have a direct impact on at least six of them: decent work (SDG 8), responsible production (SDG 12), innovation (SDG 9), gender equality (SDG 5), reduced inequality (SDG 10), and sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11).
A work-life balance promoted by organizations themselves becomes again an essential procedure so as to facilitate the accomplishment of such objectives. A clear example of this could be the role of companies in the development of sustainable cities
Today, more than half of the population lives in cities, and one of the main issues is mobility, entailing significant ecological implications.
Making innovative flexibility policies available is one manner organizations have to avoid unnecessary employee trips, thus reducing pollution levels, time required and expenses on the part of workers.
One of the opportunities derived from the current global crisis is to rethink spaces and commuting. Should we always work at a particular location, or should telecommuting be encouraged? Does it still make sense to go every day to our office in our own car, or are companies in the position of offering sustainable, more efficient alternatives? What are the benefits and the costs of all this? These questions could be useful for organizations contemplating a paradigm shift regarding work-life balance.
Said balance, far from being a soft topic, becomes a key element regarding the development of fairer, healthier societies. Organizations, at the same time, play a crucial role as social agents in order to achieve that goal.
Are organizations aware of their role in sustainability? Are they aware of their indirect impact? The only solution lies in a paradigm shift; a shift making companies look up at a horizon of multiple indirect benefits which could be brought to the table in pursue of a more equitable, more sustainable society.