Last week, two US tech giants announced that they would be covering the potential cost of egg-freezing procedures for their female employees as part of each company’s benefit packages The announcement has been met with debate: are these companies looking to hold on to female talent or are they sending a message that women should be prioritising careers over family?
My initial reaction was to side with the latter. But after a bit of thought and office discussion, I came to the conclusion that a policy giving employees more options for managing their health – and, let’s say, managing their time – is actually a good thing. My next thought was how very intimate this discussion is in relationship to the workplace and also how unavoidable it is given how much of our lives we spend at work.
According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), people in the US work on average for 1,790 hours per year, which is about 25 hours above the global norm. While that is a good portion of the 8,765 hours in a year, it doesn’t take into account the fact that many of us are constantly connected to work – even sleeping next to our mobiles with emails trickling in throughout the night. The line between private life and work is blurry.
It might sound grim but it doesn’t have to be that way. The notion of achieving a work/life balance implies a dark picture of how we feel about work – that it is tedious and unpleasant rather than a joyful experience. But if your job is something you love then perhaps it is just another part of a fulfilling life. And in this scenario, it’s not so far-fetched to imagine that employers might care about people’s wellbeing.
Plenty of studies have been done on the relationship between health and productivity showing that healthy people work better. Researchers at the University of Warwick say that happy workplaces make people 12 per cent more productive. I’d say companies offering outstanding healthcare packages or even indulging in small gestures such as providing your morning muesli are on the right track.
Perhaps it is time to put less emphasis on finding the right work/life balance and instead focus more energy on loving the work that we do and the environments in which we do it.
Megan Billings is a researcher for Monocle's New York bureau.