In the modern workplace, the traditional concept of work-life balance is gradually giving way to a more adaptable and realistic approach — ‘work-life fit’. This shift is being driven by a range of factors, including changes in technology, employee expectations and a growing recognition that the rigid boundaries of traditional work-life balance may not be sustainable or attainable for many individuals.
Samay, a team lead at an IT firm is feverishly trying to complete his report because he has to leave his workplace and head home at 5:30 p.m. sharp. He can see that his colleagues are enjoying a coffee break, but he ignores them because his focus is on completing his work. It has been a while since he decided to achieve work-life balance. He has offered to be home with his daughter while his wife attends Yoga class in the evening. This would be his quality time as a father to his child, he had assured himself. The phone rings just then and he is informed of an emergency meeting that has been scheduled. An upset Samay calls his wife to tell her that she should ask the nanny to stay back and be with their daughter because he will be late. The guilt at failing his wife and daughter distract him at the meeting, where he hardly registers anything that is being discussed.
Vikram, a team lead at another firm, is enjoying a chat with his team members at the cafeteria. He holds a piece of paper where he has written down the names of the team members who are available for an in-office meeting the next day. He allows three team members to join the meeting online from their homes as their spouses are either unwell or not available to babysit their children in the first half. Vikram himself has a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon which is why he has scheduled the meeting in the first half of the day. He knows he can come in early the next day, conveniently attend the meeting and leave early, well in time for the appointment. With everything sorted for the meeting, Vikram heads back to his desk to tackle the official e-mails that are craving his attention.
Clearly, Samay is ‘struggling’ to strike a balance between work and his personal life. Vikram, on the other hand, is taking into account his own and his team members’ schedules and adopting a convenient path, suitable to all. There is no frustration here, but sheer calm and reassurance.
Ranjan Kumar Mohapatra, former director (HR), Indian Oil Corporation, shares, “Proper alignment of work and life is the key focus here. This approach differs from the traditional concept of work-life balance, which often emphasises segregating work from personal life. The goal is to blend the two in a way that enhances productivity while also fulfilling one’s personal purpose.”
“Proper alignment of work and life is the key focus here. This approach differs from the traditional concept of work-life balance, which often emphasises segregating work from personal life”
Ranjan Kumar Mohapatra, former director (HR), Indian Oil Corporation
Mohapatra wholeheartedly agrees that a shift in mindset is necessary. “The prevailing notion that working excessively long hours, such as 70 hours a week, is a badge of honour needs to be reconsidered. Rather than counting the hours worked, we should be looking at the number of truly productive hours,” he suggests.
Demise of work-life balance
Work-life balance, as a concept, has been the gold standard for years. It suggests an equilibrium between work and personal life, with the two separated by a clear and defined boundary. However, the rise of technology and the advent of remote work have blurred these boundaries, making it increasingly challenging to maintain a strict division between one’s professional and personal lives.
One of the main catalysts for the shift towards work-life fit is the proliferation of technology. The digital age has brought about a 24/7 work culture where employees are always connected to their jobs through smartphones, emails and messaging apps. While technology offers flexibility, it can also lead to an ‘always-on’ mentality, causing burnout and affecting mental health.
“Work-life balance, traditionally about strict separation between work and personal life, is evolving in response to digital advancements and changing work patterns,” says Gautam Srivastava, director and head – HR, The Phoenix Mill. He further adds, “Remote work, freelancing and gig jobs are blurring the boundaries between work and personal life, with employees increasingly valuing flexible schedules. This work-life fit approach is driven by technology and employee preferences.”
Emergence of work-life fit
In response to these challenges, companies are now embracing the concept of work-life fit, which focuses on creating an environment where employees can integrate their work and personal lives more seamlessly, based on their unique needs and circumstances.
Work-life fit emphasises flexibility, allowing employees to customise their work schedules to better align with their personal lives. This could include flexible hours, compressed workweeks, or the option to work remotely. Companies recognise that a one-size-fits-all approach to work-life balance is unrealistic, and providing flexibility helps employees manage their individual needs more effectively.
“Remote work, freelancing and gig jobs are blurring the boundaries between work and personal life, with employees increasingly valuing flexible schedules. This work-life fit approach is driven by technology and employee preferences”
Gautam Srivastava, director and head – HR, The Phoenix Mill
According to Ravi Kumar, CPO, Page Industries, as individuals reach a certain level of satisfaction, they start to question the fundamental aspects of their lives. “This leads us to the question, ‘Why should organisations encourage employees to achieve a work-life fit rather than just work-life balance?’.”
First and foremost, “It’s about creating an environment where employees can excel in both their personal and professional lives,” says Kumar. “Striking this balance ultimately leads to a more satisfied and productive workforce,” he explains.
The second point he makes is that personal development plays a significant role. By allocating time wisely, such as setting aside half an hour for learning or a couple of hours for family and friends, individuals can be more productive while maintaining a harmonious work-life balance.
Promoting work-life fit goes beyond benefiting employees; it also enhances overall productivity. When employees have the freedom to manage their work and personal responsibilities, they tend to be happier, less stressed and more engaged in their jobs. This, in turn, leads to higher job satisfaction, improved retention rates and increased company loyalty.
Srivastava also points out that the focus is on employee well-being, with work-life fit fostering a healthier work environment, possibly reducing absenteeism and increasing engagement.
Companies are increasingly recognising the need to accommodate a diverse and inclusive workforce. This means, acknowledging the varied personal circumstances and life stages of their employees, whether it’s parents, students, or individuals with unique lifestyle preferences. Work-life fit allows for a more inclusive approach to work where all employees can thrive.
“It’s about creating an environment where employees can excel in both their personal and professional lives. Striking this balance ultimately leads to a more satisfied and productive workforce”
Ravi Kumar, CPO, Page Industries
In a competitive job market, offering work-life fit can be a significant selling point for attracting and retaining top talent. Many job seekers prefer employers who prioritise their well-being and offer flexibility. Companies that adapt to this new paradigm have a competitive edge.
Mohapatra emphasises that it’s about finding the right balance and fit between work and life. Therefore, we should aim to integrate work into our lives, and vice versa.
The shift from work-life balance to work-life fit represents a necessary evolution in the way we approach work and life in the modern world. Companies that embrace this change recognise the importance of flexibility, diversity and employee well-being in achieving success.