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Work-life balance - a new religion?

01/09/14

Work-life balance is now so important, it seems some are treating it in almost religious terms.

The changing nature of work is often a hot topic, not least at times of economic upheaval or rapid technological change, both of which have been prominent features of life in recent years. This has been true in accountancy and banking, as elsewhere.

One of the key buzz phrases used in recruitment and in the workplace is "work-life balance". In the past, this might have been taken for granted: The balance was that most people - or men, anyway - would go to the office or factory in the morning, do a day's work and then go home to have their tea and spend time with their families. Then, at the weekend, they would have more time free.

However, the changing nature of work has made this nine-to-five model less typical. Partly this is due to us living in more of a 24-hour society, meaning an increasing number of people have to work unusual and 'unsociable' hours. In addition to this, the growth in the number of working mothers has brought a new meaning to the phrase work-life balance as they juggle families with careers.

Moreover, there has been a shift in attitudes, with work-to-live replacing live-to-work. This may be partly wrapped up in a shift away from jobs for life, meaning fewer people regard the job they do as a key element of their identity. But it is also based on a desire to see 'life' as a fun thing to be enjoyed that is distinct from 'work'.

This was highlighted by ICAEW blogger Michael Taylor, speaking about how this has affected the chartered accountancy issue. Writing on the organisation's website, he said many practice principals have noted this attitude is prevalent in under-30s, remarking that one of them said of this demographic: "Their priorities are fun, family and work in that order," while another said: "Work-life balance has become the new religion."

He suggested this group is the "LinkedIn generation", for whom side projects, rather than the need to pick up their kids from nursery, was the main reason for strict working to contracted hours.

Of course, describing work-life balance in terms of a 'religion' might prompt a range of reactions, not just according to one's own beliefs, but also when assessing just how important it is to individuals.

What matters most for an accountancy practice, of course, is whether this factor makes or breaks their efforts to recruit and retain staff. Company policies on maintaining work-life balance may need to be more appealing in light of this.

The Marks Sattin Salary Insight report into salaries and market trends in 2014 produced some notable facts that could help employers understand what their priorities should be.

Perhaps the most telling figures in work-life balance terms emerged from the list of most and least important benefits. Overall, 76 per cent said 25 or more days holiday was a benefit that attracted them to a role, ahead of financial incentives like company pensions or bonuses.

However, it is also notable that childcare arrangements or vouchers were the third least-regarded benefit. This suggests that of all the benefits that may be considered to enhance 'work-life balance', free time is the most important.

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