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Making Work Life Balance Relevant Again

Today's post comes to us from board member Natalie Bickford, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer at Sanofi.

We used to talk a lot about “work life balance” in business, predominantly in relation to working mothers. We talked about how important it was for women to find a way to balance the demands of a job with the responsibilities of bring up young children. Companies were lauded for the introduction of better maternity benefits, term time contracts, and return-to- work coaching.

But now when I consider the term “work life balance”, it seems outmoded. Work is part of life, and the concept of work and life being entirely divorced is erroneous. I often find myself ordering my supermarket shopping online from my office, and then equally, dealing with work email at 9pm from home once I have fed my family. The younger generations now see the workplace as an environment to meet people, make friends, and contribute to society, just much as a platform to develop their skills and impact the company's efforts.

Also, whatever made us believe that work life balance was just a women's issue? Everybody has a whole life, into which work, relationships, caring commitments and wider contribution to society must fit.

Therefore, I now like to think that what we offer to our people is an employee experience - and this goes far beyond the bounds of generous HR policies for working mothers.

I think we can put this employee experience into five main buckets:

  1. Workplace

Clearly the physical workplace is important, and it is changing. Great companies have largely ditched closed offices, and now use their precious and expensive office environments as hubs of collaboration, innovation and social interaction. The LEGO company is one of the best at this, and they even have play areas for employees' children to hang out in when they want to bring them to the office.

2. Whole life services

Forward-thinking companies are now recognizing that to get the best out of your staff, you need to remember that they have a whole life, and that there is more to wellbeing than yoga classes. In the U.S., my employer, Sanofi, provides their employees with a range of services that help them with family concerns. These include, but are not limited to, the provision of emergency childcare, help for elderly relatives, and financial planning support.

3. Flexibility

COVID-19 has proven to us that agile working works - for many. We have work to do to ensure this can apply to our workforce who must be physically on-site to do their jobs and think more laterally about how to offer dynamic work solutions to this population. Great ideas include opening manufacturing plants 24/7 so that staff have more choice on when to work and flexible hour contracts to suit caring responsibilities.

4. Social responsibility

An increasingly important part of the employee experience is to give our staff an overarching sense of purpose, whether through the nature of the work our company does, or through an opportunity to make a wider contribution to the communities we serve. Think about this trend as a shift from "employee of a company" to "citizen of a community." In fact, for millennial graduates this continues to be a driving factor when selecting a company with which to start their career.

5. Culture of accountability and development

And finally, none of the above will matter if our employees feel micro-managed and mistrusted. We all perform better when we are given clear direction on the output expected, provided with support and development, and then given the freedom to deliver. This is just as relevant for a barista in a coffee shop as it is for a senior leader of a business.

To attract and retain the best talent for our businesses, it is important to ask ourselves how strong we are across these five areas, because we can be certain that prospective employees will!

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