Forget the Balancing Act: Learn to be Flexible

Bird's eye view of Intindola in her office at a computer, looking up.

“The notion that work and life are separate is no longer appropriate in our hyper-connected world.”
– Dr. Melissa Intindola

In today’s always connected environment, both organizations and employees face challenges in adapting to changing expectations for instant communication and staying connected. “Just as it takes support at home to exist at work, it also takes a supportive organization to exist at home,” says Dr. Melissa Intindola, assistant professor of management and award-winning researcher.

“What became clear to me when considering my own work-life experience is that the idea of balance is really a misnomer,” she says, adding that there is no universally accepted definition of what the term means.

This realization sparked a research project for Intindola in which she describes “work-life flexibility” as a more accurate depiction of individuals’ value and a concept that organizations can embrace.

“Employees report wanting to feel supported in their complex lives above all else,” says Intindola, who is the 2017 recipient of the Haworth College of Business Faculty Research Award. “The notion that work and life are separate is no longer appropriate in our hyper-connected world.”

According to the findings, employees need to understand how their organizations value time. If someone is employed by an organization that seeks to control their time, work-life flexibility may be difficult. “This can lead to job dissatisfaction and workplace deviance such as hiding personal time,” says Intindola. “When possible, employees may consider a conversation with their manager or supervisor about how their time is used in an effort to introduce a more flexible approach.”

For organizations, recognizing this need for flexibility can be an important step in adapting to changing expectations. The biggest challenge for organizations is to change the ideas surrounding how time is used at work. Does the organization find it acceptable for an employee to leave early for a child’s dance recital if he or she answers email at home? Or, does an organization allow employees to respond to personal emails and texts at work if they are demonstrating productivity?  

“Organizations typically feel that if they’ve introduced benefits such as flex scheduling and telecommuting, they’ve covered their bases with respect to giving employees more time to tend to personal matters,” says Intindola. “But these policies are based on the assumption that work and life can be separated and compartmentalized. Instead, organizations need to work on accepting that the two are naturally co-occurring and trust their employees to interact with both on a given day.” 

Intindola stresses that both the organization and employee need to consider values and needs in determining if the work environment is a fit:

  • Does the organization recognize employees’ complex lives?
  • Does the organization allow employees the autonomy to manage how life and work interact?
  • Does the organization consider time to be flexible?

Diving into how employees actually view work-life flexibility benefits (such as flex time) is the next step for Intindola’s research. She is also interested in learning about the perception of any ramifications for using these benefits from both the manager’s and the employee’s point of view.