Like elephants, humans are K-Selected creatures. According to the r/K Selection Theory, r-Selected animals have high multitudes of offspring and allow them to fend for themselves, but K-Selected species have fewer offspring and play a bigger role in helping offspring thrive. This ties into the hot topic of work life balance, family and personal values currently circulating in the business world. Like elephants, humans have a natural desire to nurture their young, and like elephants, that involves an array of points to consider. Though it wouldn’t have been the first topic to come to mind, it’s time to stop and ask what parents and society as a whole can learn from elephants when it comes to work life balance.
1) According to the standards of nature, work and life should be integrated
Elephants are no different than humans in that they must provide for their families. They may not be leaving for an office job in a suit, but they’re searching for resources and teaching their young to forage. Migration to attain resources is their day job. However, the work life balance of elephants doesn’t become a discussion. Why? Well, they’re animals. But in addition, for elephants, like most other K-Selected creatures aside from humans, work and life are integrated. The elephant’s young are with them when the work is getting done. In fact, this is an important aspect of how the young learn to survive. What is the take away here? Somewhere in the evolution of culture, it was decided that contributing to society is work, and work must be done in a child free zone. It was decided that in a work environment, there won’t be acknowledgement of personal needs or children or families.
It may be a good time in human evolution to pause and consider if this is truly the best method for survival. Is it better to allow more overlap between work and life? From a logical perspective, this analysis would explain why there are now many positive studies related to telecommute and flexible jobs. Liane Hornsey, the Google VP of Operations, showcases the success of this mentality at Google. When asked about work life balance at Google in an interview on Meet the Boss, Liane explains that the company is outcome focused, not detail focused. In other words, they don’t monitor what time employees arrive or keep track of sick days. They focus on performance reviews and results, and allow employees flexibility. Of course, Google’s success as an organization speaks to the effectiveness of this method. Not to mention, Marissa Myer could certainly use the Work Life Balance Elephant Theory as basis for her controversial decision to set up a nursery in her office at Yahoo. In fact, would it be completely unrealistic to think that her setup may be the first step toward a more rational and realistic work life future for everyone? This is good food for thought for all, but especially for anyone in policy setting positions.
2) Community is key to survival
If elephants could talk, they’d tell you that their herd is their lifeline. It takes a group to make it work. All of the elephants pitch in to forage and take care of the young (PBS). This unity enables safety in the wild and increased productivity. Sure, humans are different from elephants. But are humans different in their need for team work? Are the positive results of healthy community any different?
work life balance. What if Human Resources Departments and company executives began adopting workplace flexibility like Google, but they took an extra step to encourage buddy systems for parents on the job? This idea is to suggest that caregivers and parents within a department would be encouraged to connect. If one had a big presentation, but a family emergency erupted at the same time, one of their “buddy parents” would step into help. Would it really hurt anything if organizations had a play room available where employee’s kids could get together during office hours? This actually isn’t unheard of, but it certainly isn’t the norm.
And finally, what if kids were allowed to be in the office during working hours under certain circumstances or for small periods of time? Again, going back to elephant herds, the young learn from being with their parents on the job. This isn’t to say that all offices should have children in them all the time. But perhaps the Work Life Balance Elephant Theory would suggest that each workplace be open to these sorts of considerations when outlining their polices. Again, Google has proven the success of workplace flexibility. As cited in her TedX Talk, Princeton Professor, Anne-Marie Slaughter, points out a 2008 study that showed employees working a flexible work places are more engaged. She also explains that the majority of Fortune 500 companies are flexible with their employees, hence their bottom-line success.
Take it or leave it, but the Work Life Balance Elephant Theory presented above certainly offers food for thought. There are so many elaborate case studies and statistics that argue the importance of work life balance, but this theory also digs into the basics of science and human nature. Its high time society truly tackles the elephant in the room, which is the issue of work life balance and how it influences families and organizations.
Photo Credit: Sumanah
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