Work-Life Balance vs Work-Life Fluidity: What's the Difference?

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Terms such as “work-life balance” and “work flexibility” have been at the tip of our tongues for a few years now, with many of us expressing the desire to reach that equilibrium, without necessarily knowing what it entails. 

That said, what if there’s no such thing as a true balance between work and life? What if we all just gave up on our hunt for the utopian world of balance, and instead focused on fluidity?

It seems like work-life balance is just another impossible standard to measure success with, and instead of alleviating our stress and work expectations, it makes us feel like we aren’t doing enough, both in our personal and professional lives. 

What does real work-life balance look like?

When it was first introduced, the concept of ‘work-life balance’ aimed to offer more flexibility and adaptability to work than the previous traditional mindset of rigid schedules and fixed working hours. 

For many, it reflects a need to prioritise career and personal life obligations equally, and while in theory that sounds great, in reality, it’s not possible for everyone. For example, for those with extended working hours or, say, a newborn baby, the given expectations cause further stress and guilt as a result of the inability to effectively balance the scales. 

The expectation to constantly have our lives in perfect balance is virtually impossible and instead, employees should be in a position to choose a work environment that offers better integration of work and life, rather than a strict balance between the two. 

Fostering a Mindset of Functioning Fluidity

Taking into account a work-life balance refers to a more 50/50 approach to prioritising work and life commitments, while the concept of work-life fluidity is a direct challenge to the balance we’ve been striving for. Instead, it emphasises the importance of setting expectations with regard to managing both aspects of our lives with flexibility and adaptability. 

Essentially, this concept accepts that people have varied motivations, responsibilities and priorities away from work, which can look different from one individual to another, so expecting that everyone should equally balance work and their personal lives is simply not feasible. 

Examples of work-life fluidity refers to things like stepping away from work slightly earlier to spend time with family or attending a personal commitment - like a doctor’s appointment - and picking up where you left off later in the evening.

CEO of coffee giant Nespresso, Anna Lundstorm, favours work-life fluidity as it allows her to cater to her personal commitments while being keeping on the pulse of her workforce. As she explains, with her role and level of responsibility, “switching off” isn’t an option so instead she allows work to weave its way in and out of her day, by constantly being available on various platforms, so she can be reached at any given time.

However, while never switching off works for her, for others it could lead to higher rates of burnout, so finding a system that best works for you and fits around your life is important. Remember that your approach towards work-life fluidity will likely differ from that of your colleagues. 

A more fluid approach supports work and life integration, minimising the focus on the hours employees spend in the office or in front of their computer, the location they work from, and their start or finish time - all of which tend to correlate with their degree of productivity. Work-life fluidity focuses instead on the outcomes, giving employees full autonomy and accountability, and encouraging them to deliver results. 

How is this feasible? Well, rather than obsessing over how many hours a day an employee was active online and sat at their desk working, managers can focus on employees’ output. For things such as completing tasks before their deadline, the attention and effort put into the task should be observed instead.

So, what’s the difference between work-life balance and work-life fluidity? 

To put it simply, work-life balance refers to creating clear and firm boundaries between the time you spend on work and the time you have for your personal life. Putting this notion into practice, you’ll set aside a certain amount of time each day, which you will spend focusing on work, typically 8 am to 5 pm, and outside of those hours, you’re fully dedicated to your personal life.

Alternatively, work-life fluidity blends the boundaries between working hours and personal time, where employees can choose when to tackle their tasks and responsibilities at a time that best suits them, as long as they complete their weekly work hours.

By implementing work-life fluidity, employees are free to handle personal tasks during working hours and vice versa. This is especially beneficial to employees with young children, who can 100% focus on their work when children are at nursery or go to bed. 

So, you may be wondering which of the two is better? Well, the answer is, it depends. Neither approach is necessarily better than the other, it just depends on which one works best for you.

The first thing you need to ask yourself is: “Do I feel more comfortable having a clear separation between working hours and personal time?”

If the answer to that is yes, then the stricter work-life balance boundaries are a better suit for you. Otherwise, if you enjoy more flexibility and freedom, fluidity may benefit you more. 

How to Make Work-Life Fluidity Work

Embracing work-life fluidity can help create an environment where employees feel empowered and have the autonomy to create their own schedules and manage their time as they see fit. As a result, this can help improve their overall work satisfaction, encouraging productivity and boosting employee retention. 

However, in order to reach successful implementation of work-life fluidity, employers must seek to establish the following:

  • Encouraging open communication with employees to understand their motivations, values and priorities
  • Setting clear boundaries
  • Prioritising certain tasks
  • Developing well-planned schedules 
  • Establishing core working hours to encourage collaboration and teamwork 

Through these, managers can monitor their team’s progress and work dedication, without the need to micromanage, while still making sure this new sense of freedom that comes with work-life fluidity isn’t abused. Along with that, employers can utilise time-tracking software and task management systems in order to:

  • Keep employees accountable for the time and effort put into work
  • Track employee output
  • Maintain efficiency 
  • Meet all essential deadlines

Work-life fluidity can be especially beneficial for remote workers, as balancing multiple projects, meetings and their general workload requires them to manage their time and commitments flexibly. Therefore, having the option to work in short bursts throughout the day may work best for them to catch up on their workload when they have time to concentrate on it. 

Since the global pandemic, new working styles have been widely embraced, with people seeking more autonomy and freedom with the way they work, their location, the time, as personal well-being is now one of the main motivations for professionals around the world. 

Regardless, terms such as ‘work-life balance’ and ‘work-life fluidity’ are continuously referred to without much understanding of what they actually mean. ‘Balance’ was once considered to be the secret to a fulfilled personal and successful professional life, suggesting equal attention for both.

However, trying to strike a clear balance between is increasingly proving to be an unrealistic expectation, with fluidity offering a fresh new perspective. By prioritising their personal lives and values, alongside meeting their professional commitments, individuals can enjoy the  increased satisfaction and overall contentment a harmonious work-life fluidity can offer. 

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