Work-life balance

My topic of essay is work life balance among the employees in a dynamic economy which demands for more time at work and less time for other non-work activities.

Competitive work environment and information technology has led to a substantial increase in work by employees in the last twenty years. Companies now demand more from their employees in terms of performance and service delivery. Increase in consumption due to an ever expanding market for virtually all products has led to companies going extra miles to meet the growing demands.  Again, the capitalistic culture requires that the more one works, the more he stands to benefit from the best of human goods and services: for examples, MacDonald’s merchandise.  From the lowest level workers to the upper management, both the demands of the company and personal financial goals are driving people to invest their energy and time up to the point of breaking down. As such, burnouts become a major characteristic of our society. Overworking is not an unusual phenomenon. Working parents stay for long without seeing their children.

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Spouses are increasingly finding it difficult to spare time for each other while children are confused on the role of parents when  most of the time they are out working. There are no longer Sabbaths[1]. If we do not have time for ourselves, our family and our friends whom we probably are in touch with, is it possible for us to spare time for deities and gods?Today, workers are increasingly finding it difficult to distinguish between their work life and their off work life. To some, it is their personal wish that they work overtime to accumulate wealth while to others, it is a mandatory adjustment to a dynamic economic system which demands that for companies and individuals to survive, extra working time must be created. Whether by choice or a mandatory adjustment, the phenomenon poses major risks to the well being of the American society and other countries that practice the same culture. I am referring to this phenomenon of overworking as a culture because if left unchecked, it will not only be passed to the subsequent generations as the acceptable way of doing things but will also spread to other regions. From the top most structures of government to entrepreneurs of micro businesses; Bill Gates to the simple watch repairer, there is a common notion that spending more time working is the best way of guaranteeing growth.Companies have discovered the existence of this phenomenon as they now seem to realize their position and responsibility within the society.

Their attention has shifted to their social responsibility, focusing on the most basic of the social structure- the family. Family, businesses, corporations, associations, and all other social organizations are often confronted with a major question which involves balancing work activities and family activities. ‘Work and life balance’ as it is often being referred to, has mainly been a company policy. As such, companies determine when to go to work, how many hours one should work and how much one is to be paid for a given number of hours worked. Since the policies are designed such that the more hours an individual work, the more he gets paid, people have been conditioned to maximize their time of work so as to gain more material benefits, oblivious of the social, psychological and biological risks it poses.

Terms of employment including working time are traditionally determined unilaterally by the employer. However, employees in sectors with strong union representation always have an upper hand in negotiating for working time even though the formal provision lies with the employer. (Heyman, Summers) As such, one can balance his working and family time should the employer see the logic of consenting to ones request.

However, even if the provision for working time were flexible, the demands  of a free market economy dictates that we make more provision for work. Companies on the other hand are looking for a more efficient workforce in a competitive market system. However, there are no formal  expectations by employees from their employers to meet their out of work needs. Conflict between work and home are not expected to affect work and as such should be solved by the employee privately.Managers often maintain that it is the responsibility of employees to balance between their work and domestic demands. As such, they claim that it should not be their responsibility if an employee develops a mental condition due to work related stress.

The demands of work is forcing more people to slowly discard their domestic responsibilities. With the daily lives of families changing and responsibilities being swapped, functions of the basic structures are also shifting. Men are no longer the bread winners as responsibilities are often equally divided between them and women. Children are left to wallow in a social quagmire since they lack role models. The picture they get is that men are destined for work, work and more work: their fathers are doing it, their mothers too hence they are also bound to pick up the same system when they become of age.However, according to Daniel Vloeberghs, men and women wish to integrate their professional life with their family lives. Companies are also rooting to permeate the work life boundaries. Most policy interest emanate from economic desirability to step up the participation of mothers with young children while at the same time being sensitive to tension related with family and employment lives.

In other words, they tend to make provisions for time for mothers to attend to their children. However, these mothers mostly view their challenge as based on the tough economic conditions which make them look for other companies. There are many case of individuals holding two jobs just for them to be able to avoid being put on Bed and Breakfast programs. That is, the economic situation makes it difficult for ordinary individuals to hold a single company job. In order to meet the demands of their families in terms of meeting their basic needs, many individuals opt for other ‘odd’ jobs. Odd in the sense that the hours of work are beside normal time.Most studies on work-life balance ignore a very important aspect and class of the majority population.

As such, they focus on corporate organizations and ignore the population which constitute the largest percentage of the citizens. This is the population that has no option but to work long and tiresome hours in order to sustain themselves and their families. According to Frame and Hartog, a good work life balance incorporates the capacity to freely use flexible working hour programs to balance between work and other personal commitments rather than focusing on work.[2] however, other personal commitment may include the need to make more money to support the family.

There is not much difference in giving more time to an employee whose personal commitment is making ends meet for his family. In other words, there are several factors which come to play when it comes to balancing between family and work. According to Hobson, personal and work related problems come as a result of failure by an individual to fulfill fundamental family or personal responsibilities.

It is however not clears which comes first; failure to fulfill personal or family responsibility or heavy demands at work extending to the family domain. According to Hobson, support by the employer may result in the employee being motivated to work harder in terms of commitment, productivity and attendance. This may influence the desire to work overtime thus compromising the time spent by employees with their family members.The government has stepped in to address the critical issue of family friendly employment that ensures that an individual balances his time to cater for other activities apart from work. An individual may desire to make provisions for personal things like attending church services with his family while the company’s provisions are that they work seven days a week.

In such a situation, the employee is left with only two choices: sacrificing his faith or finding another job which, with the current employment trend may not be easy. However, even with the support of the government, the concept of working time should be reviewed. For instance, to what ratio should the time spent working and doing other work related activities be divided in relation to time spent experiencing and reflecting on the other aspect of humans not related with work?The driving force of every society is the daily interaction between men and women in their family, professional and social lives.

[3] Sociologically, the daily life of humans who are social actors is described as their daily fragmentation of divergent activities and means. Life course is thus a general term used to refer to modification and adaptation to this daily life of dividing time and means. Human society is made up of a super structure subdivided up to individual level. As such, individuals belong to families, clubs, organizations, political parties associations and corporations. Thus, all social actors are part of a larger system while being made of a smaller system themselves. The lives of individuals revolve around switching between these roles. That is, switching from being a father to being a worker within a specific time or assuming the responsibility of a mother to an associate professor.

Today, individuals find themselves being more inclined to being workers than being parents or talented basketball player.Time is divided among actors in such a way that different activities take different times and amount of time allocated for one activity affects the other activities. For instance, if one spends much of his time at work, this means that he spends less time performing other activities not related with work such as exercising, attending bible studies and playing with the kids. With the demands of the preset system, individuals are finding that they spend much of their time at work. With information technology and the internet, those working at home also find it difficult to take their eyers off the computer and engage in more physical activities. This poses a massive health risk. Individuals should understand the importance taking a considerable amount of time off work so they may enjoy the fruits of their labor and the beauty of life experience. This however becomes difficult especially in a society characterized by materialism where good life is being associated with material wealth.

Besides affecting the individual, unhealthy work life balance also impacts negatively on the companies and corporations. There has been a rise in workplace violence and increased case of absenteeism. All these point towards the fact that Americans are finding it difficult to balance between work and personal or private time. The reasons stated for overworking range from company policies, fast pace of technological advancements and personal ambitions.

Most attribute their increased hours of work to globalization. Many more say that even though sometimes it is their decision to work for long hours, the practice impacts on them negatively.According to David Walters[4] the emerging current trends require that businesses focus on returns more than any other thing. As such, as long as workers can produce results, it does not matter whether their domestic and working time balance.

For there to be a healthy American society, policies regarding working time should be redefined so that they accommodate the other side of human life- leisure. As much as companies are interested in making super profit, social actors should realize that they exist for people and not vice versa. Men and women can be slaves to other social institution thus forget their whole purpose. There is no need for men to exist so that they may make the life of the majority unbearable while the minority live like kings with virtually no stress of work.

Man must work but man also should rest. Lives of men should not therefore be restricted to places of work. There needs to be time when man can be free to appreciate the fruits of nature which includes spiritual reflection, moments with the family, time for recreation and above all, time for intercourse with nature. Men should thus find ways of creating time for all the necessary activities because they may turn slaves to what they have created.

Author: Gwendolyn Stevenson


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