The Changing Meaning of the WLB (Work-Life Balance) Concept

After seeing the frontier between work and family daily get blurred, blurry, and blurriest, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, one cannot help but wonder: Is the WLB a facade as WLB may no longer be what it was first conceptualized to be or mean?

What does WLB mean, historically?

As an illustration, the Work Foundation (2003b), states that WLB is all ‘about employees achieving a satisfactory equilibrium between work and non-work activities (i.e., parental responsibilities and wider caring duties, as well as other activities and interests). More importantly, ‘There should be a balance between an individual’s work and their life outside work, and this balance should be healthy’ argues Kodz, Harper and Dench, 2002).

Research on WLB cannot emphasise enough the importance of WLB. Thus, the WLB sermon has gained ground over the years. After all, it aids understanding of the relationship and interaction between (1) work and organisation (2) work and home (3) work and out of organisation/home relationships and (4) home and work-related experiences. Moreover, WLB preaches the ability of workers to maintain separation and balance by ensuring a non-conflict situation among the enumerated.  However, since the advent of covid-19 and remote work, the WLB narrative has become more nuanced and complicated. With staff working remotely, work, and personal/home life have become so integrated and greatly infused such that there is almost a non-existent line of differentiation or demarcation. For example, working from home has resulted in one too many being barely able to catch their breath and juggle work, family, relationships, and related activities. With work-related activities and issues almost gaining a dominance or upper hand.  Thereby making it difficult to balance work and personal/home life and their related issues. A situation made complex and complicated by technological ease, digital communications, and 24-7 access to work mail.

What’s WLB to look-like post-covid?

With the contemplation of a hybrid blend of office and remote work as the future of white-collar work. Would the WLB narratives remain the same? Or will WLB have a new meaning over time as work and organisational structures evolve?  For instance, workers spending less time together and at work. Likewise, social ties amongst workers as well as an attachment to an employer may weaken? One wonders whether employee loyalty is likely to diminish. Would employers struggle to build trust or manage remote teams? Undoubtedly, Covid-19 has not only changed the meaning of WLB, but it has also changed the structure and framework of the WLB concept. In addition, the constant evolution and unpredictable weather of the world of work, global and societal changes, and uncertainties brought about by the pandemic and constant technological advancements, implies the interpretation of WLB would still take flights to unknown destinations.  In this regard, would it be an error in judgement to generalize the concept of WLB across careers/professions? Would WLB become a concept only compatible with or associated with certain careers or professions and non-compatible with some others (e.g., academic careers). With the expected continual adjustment, pivoting, redefining of personal and professional landscapes and the changing landscape of the WLB concept. Would WLB’s new conceptualisation imply compatibility with certain careers and incompatibility with others?

While Covid-19 may (not) eventually fade, would the challenges, changes, and impact brought-on or driven by it, fade? For example, changes to career, career meanings, enactment of careers and career decisions, career attitude and overall, how we experience career.  This begs the questions: Are we able to effectively manage the challenges and strain of remote work on homes, relationships? Manage the settling of remote work conflicts in the new telecommuting culture? Or manage the spillover effects of digital conflicts and disagreements?