The Traditional Model

Valeria Leonardi International Advisor, Lifeed

‘Work / Life Balance’ has existed as a buzzword for many years now. A quick Google trends search shows that the use of the phrase has been steadily rising in the last two decades, and anecdotally, the phrase has creeped slowly into the Lexicon of workplaces to the point in which it’s now an everyday phrase.

It refers to managing the separate resource of our working and non-working lives, with only a finite number of hours in the day. One thing is becoming increasingly obvious – the current way of thinking simply isn’t working. All major mental health bodies have online sections devoted to coping with this balance and how to deal with it, and figures from recent years have shown that only ⅓ brits feel happy about their current ‘work / life balance’.

So why is ‘Work / Life Balance’ so difficult? And why do we feel so negatively about it? It may sound counter-intuitive, but I firmly believe a lot of this stress comes from the fact that we see them as two separate entities that we have to juggle.

Our culture conditions us to separate our different roles, identities and actions into different contexts – like work and life. It can feel overwhelming when we try to juggle lots of different things at the same time. In reality, we’re just trying to shift between our ‘roles’ in quick succession – our working role and our non-working role. Now that both roles have become largely digital, it’s more difficult than ever to switch off from them.

It requires a lot of effort and is incredibly hard to get right. Over the past 50 years, cognitive scientists have closely studied multitasking and role conflict. Numerous research studies have shown that none of us can truly do multiple things at the same time. If we try to do so, it actually reduces our productivity by up to 40%. We actually get less done, feel more stressed and spend more time doing things overall.

It’s like we see ourselves as cakes, with each role taking a slice. The more slices we cut up, the smaller the pieces have to be. It’s as though each conflicting role we take in life requires us to give something of ourselves, and if we are lucky, there will be something left for us too. But that’s not the case. We’re more like concentric circles: each role strengthens another. The more identities we have, the more resources we have available to us and the stronger we are.

A new idea – ‘Transilience’

This term may help you think more positively about juggling your different roles. It’s based on the changes that happen to you as you transition into different roles in life.

We can unlock resources and soft skills from one role in life and activate them in another.

For example, perhaps your child has been training your persuasion skills at home as you’ve helped them to navigate their own priorities and daily tasks. Those same persuasion skills could be applied when presenting a new project to your boss, or vice-versa. By seeing the two as connected, we reduce the strain on ourselves and make our ability at that skill stronger.

Transilience refers to how during times of stress and change, the learning of these skills is greater. Rather than trying to see work and life as separate, perhaps we can focus on the common ground in order to become stronger.

We regularly promote transilience as a concept to users of our digital training programs, and our recent survey of over 1400 users revealed that 56% of people felt that transilience allowed them to use more of themselves at work, with 1 in 2 people discovering ‘hidden’ talents that they hadn’t previously considered using in the workplace. Over time, this new way of thinking has a tangible impact on team wellbeing too, with 87% of people feeling less stressed and 90% of people saying they have more energy. Inevitably, this causes a positive ripple effect through the business, playing to their strengths as they build an inclusive and welcoming environment.

There’s other benefits, too. Studies show that this unleashes a whole wealth of resources and opportunities for businesses, increasing productivity by up to +12% and saving 1220 euros per employee per year.

The Role of COVID-19

It’s inevitable that COVID-19 has disrupted the entire working world as we know it – which has some significant effects on how we manage the different roles in our lives as individuals and how companies start to see this from their perspective as well. And there’s evidence that one silver lining from the pandemic may be a greater push towards this new way of thinking about transilience from companies.

Working from home has ended the practice of going physically from one location to another, moving the roles towards each other with an inescapable force. In many ways, this has been an intensely stressful and difficult time for workers everywhere, but perhaps one positive has been allowing people to experience firsthand how their different roles are connected? Research conducted this summer shows that ⅔ Americans say their work-life balance is in a better place than it was before the pandemic.

Some more of our own research has also shown that lockdown has allowed people more time for reflection. We conducted research of over 1,500 employees, from European companies such EY and KIA, about their attitudes towards work in lockdown. We found that many indicated taking a fresh approach to work – 60% were ‘ready to start work with renewed energy’, and almost half said they had gained new skills during the lockdown, that could be applied to the workplace. These findings might seem surprising to you. Again, is it because we’ve been able to see directly how our roles are connected?