Whether working from home or from the office, there is much more to life than just employment.
Whether working from home or from the office, there is much more to life than just employment. Credit: Chris Spiegl / Unsplash Credit: Chris Spiegl / Unsplash

If home is where the heart is, then where is work? Is it where your computer is? Is it where customers are? Is it where the board room is? It is where your co-workers are? Well,  I think it depends on many things. Most importantly regardless of the answer to where work is, the real focus for organizations as they navigate their ‘new normal’ must be on human needs and not human wants. And by human needs I mean the needs of employees should not be marginalized or dismissed for the human wants of those in organizations with positional power.

I started to work from home in 2014. So the idea of ‘hybrid’ or a flexible work arrangement is not new for me. Make no mistake, I had to fight to make this happen. At that time I saw the fight as one of life balance. Not work-life balance. I now see that I was not only looking for life-balance but I was also honouring my needs.

Life balance

I always found the term ‘work-life balance’ odd. I mean, is there not more to balance? And is it only just about work-life? The reality is that for many of us we work to live, and how we live, the quality of our life requires the balance of more than work. But if 50 per cent is work and the other 50 per cent is life, well, that already is a tough equation to solve. The reality is that we have lots to balance in our lives. I often use the Eight Dimensions of Wellness, a holistic concept to wellness. The eight dimensions include: occupational, emotional, physical, intellectual, financial, social, environmental, and spiritual. Notice that ‘work’ or ‘occupational wellness’ is only one aspect of life balance and even then occupational wellness is about having a fulfilling career.

The other wellness factor that can connect to work is ‘financial wellness’. That still leaves six dimensions of balance that all of us are trying to calculate. And, spoiler alert, all of us will not have the same definitions of life balance nor will we have the same assessment of our wellness in the eight dimensions. This my friends is an important point, our workplace environments cannot be ‘one-size fits all,’ that is the mandatory requirement for many employees to work in the office is unfair and really unjust because this requirement can throw off their life balance, which I see as a human right.

Needs vs. Wants

There is a lot of literature and academic research surrounding human needs. In corporate settings, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, gets used to explain employee motivation. Although I don’t necessarily disagree with some of the needs, I struggle with having them depicted in a hierarchical way because I don’t believe human needs or motivations can really be seen in a linear fashion. Needs are personal and unique to every human. And although there are universal human needs, in this day and age the complexity and variety of human needs has evolved and exponentially grown. This is largely due to the multi-generational and diverse workforce. As the diverse workforce grows and we see more intersectional humans in workplaces there will be intersectional needs. Workplaces are no longer homogeneous.

The reality for those in organizations with positional power is that they must, dare I say, have a morale obligation to look at the variety of needs and see how the organization can embrace them versus suppress them. The pandemic has impacted the world in many ways and for workplaces it indeed forced a new paradigm. The previous assumptions that all people commute and that to be productive people need to be in the office have been dispelled. What people with positional power want, that is, people working from the office is not what employees may need. There are unilateral decisions being made and employees are being commanded to ‘return to work’ with no real solid explanations provided. The people with the positional power are not putting empathy into action.

Working and living in the new normal

Don’t get me wrong. There are for sure many sectors and industries where the job roles and responsibilities must be done in person. For example, the service industry, or essential services such as folks working in health care. My hope is that employees in these sectors and industries are being encouraged to find their life balance and honour their needs. I know we are in challenging times where this may not be the case for many. For ‘office-environment’ organizations, I have less sympathy. Human needs and life balance should be the default when employers are looking to motivate, retain, and support employees. They should not presume to know what’s best in terms of working in the office, hybrid, or remote.  They should not be pushing their preferences or wants.

What should be taking place is recognition of the complexity of being human and how we can be human at work. This means talking to employees and finding out from them how and what they think would be best. This means having candid conversations on how needs can be aligned with job expectations and reaching performance goals. This means being intentional with why gatherings are taking place at work. In The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker does a fabulous job in looking at folks sharing a space and how the experience can be fulfilling while practical.

As organizations and those with positional power look at the ‘new normal’, I hope they will recognize the importance of considering life balance and human needs and see the opportunities in different ways of working versus pushing for their wants. Now is the time to truly look at being human at work. Because we don’t ‘coat-check’ humanity when we work, if anything we need to see more of it

Jodi Rai

Jodi is a People & Culture + HR Consultant, Coach, and Trainer on a mission to create a world where humanity is prioritized in workplaces and their communities. She has reimagined the traditionally...