Once upon a time, we used to talk about work-life balance. It was a term that implied we had two sides to our lives – personal and professional. The goal was to help ensure that each side occupied roughly the same amount of our time.
Work-life balance is a lie. It’s patently untrue. Why? We have only one life. There are no “sides” – it’s all a single thing.
Instead, of that misnomer, we need to start thinking in terms of work-life synergy. While we do have only a single life, if there is no synergy between what we do professionally and what we personally believe and strive for, our life as a whole will be lacking. Managers can use learning and development to improve work-life synergy for their teams, but you’ll need to know a few things going in here.
The Blurred Line
In the past, work-life balance was possible. You woke up in the morning, went to work, and eventually got to quitting time. The hours between clocking in and clocking out were professional time. The hours between clocking out and clocking back in the next day were personal time, time that you could be free to do whatever you wanted.
For today’s employees, the dramatic changes in the workplace environment and company culture, and the adoption of intrusive technology mean that the line separating personal and professional is blurred. For many, there is no line any longer. When was the last time you answered a work email right before heading to bed? Chances are it was yesterday.
In that bygone world we keep referring to where balance was possible, you could leave work at work, but that’s no longer the case. We carry work home and home to work, which means that synergy is more important than some mythical sense of balance. But what does work-life synergy truly mean?
What Is Work-Life Synergy?
Summing up work-life synergy is actually pretty simple. It’s nothing more than having a fulfilling, rewarding personal life that is augmented by a fulfilling work life with a job that connects with your values and ethics. The result of achieving that state?
Your team members feel that their job and their duties at work have meaning. They feel supported in their personal and professional life. And they feel deeply engaged in work that resonates with them on a deep level.
How Does Learning and Development Fit In?
From an outside perspective, it might be hard to tell how and where L&D fits into the picture we’re painting of work-life synergy. And, to be clear, it is just one component. There’s much more that needs to be done, beginning with assessing your company’s culture and culminating with implementing a performance management process that includes regular check-ins and ongoing feedback for improvements.
Still, L&D is a critical part, too. That’s because, when properly implemented, L&D can support both personal and professional development. With that said, it’s not as simple as saying, “take your tests” and being done with it.
Making L&D Actionable
The first thing you must do is make L&D actionable. What does that mean, though? It’s more than simply making training and development material available. You must imbue it with practical value – what’s in it for your team members beyond compliance with some arbitrary company mandate?
You need to tie learning and development into personal and professional benefits. Doing this will require that you know your employees, though. You’ll need to know them personally and professionally, with an eye towards their values and how they want to develop their careers over time. It might help if you think of yourself (as a manager) like a talent developer or career manager because that’s really what your role is today.
When you make L&D actionable for your employees, they’ll immediately see the value in it for them. That’s powerful motivation to complete courses and upskill themselves, much more so than “because I said so”.
Making L&D Relevant
Showing them the value of learning and development is only part of the equation. You also need to ensure that it’s relevant to them. Again, this requires knowing your team members. What are their values? What ethics do they follow? How does the material in question connect with them on a personal and professional level?
As you might have guessed, relevance is closely tied to actionable content. Relevant content will have more value to your team members than irrelevant content, even if that content is somehow aligned with their career goals. Regularly set aside time to make sure that the L&D content available is relevant to each employee.
Setting Attainable Goals and Objectives
In the next step, you need to set attainable goals and objectives. It doesn’t matter how actionable or relevant the content is, if your team members have no clear path of progression, it can be overwhelming. The natural response here is to throw up your hands and quit. Obviously, that doesn’t help create better work-life synergy.
Instead, work to create a road map to success for every employee. These maps should be as personalized as possible to ensure relevance, although there will certainly be some overlap. Mandatory corporate training applies to everyone, whether they’re on a track to move to HR or looking to get a higher position in the accounting department.
Finally, you need to set alerts that tell you when an employee isn’t taking advantage of the learning and development resources available. Providing L&D content does little good if your employees don’t put it to work. When this occurs, you need to act – find out why they’re not moving forward. Often, it’s because there has been a disconnect in your messaging and they don’t see the value or relevance.
Rinse and Repeat
Improving work-life synergy isn’t a once-and-done sort of thing. You need to communicate and educate, then rinse and repeat. Ensure that there’s L&D content (supported by the appropriate progression strategy) to support employees at each step along their career path and be committed to supporting them.