THE term “work-life harmony” alludes to a seemingly recent concept that was introduced in response to changing business needs as well as the demands of new-generation workers.

The truth is, the idea of work-life harmony is not new — it is essentially remembering the time-treasured wisdom of creating a rhythm between work and home.

When I was growing up, my father had a small business distributing confectionery supplies. I recall playing at his feet in his office while he was busy at the desk.

His boundaries between work and life were never rigidly drawn. He had a few employees who would share meals with us — every day at lunch and, occasionally, for dinner. They were very loyal to my father, working with him until their retirement and in the case of Ah Seng, until he died. My father took care of his medical bills.

What my father did was to extend the concept of family into the workplace. All this took place in 1960s Singapore.

I believe my father did all this because he knew implicitly what a business needed for it to be profitable, what people needed to be able to perform productively, and how these two needs were intricately intertwined.

As I talked with him later in life, I learnt that his business operations were established on the following fundamentals: business stability, talent management, the “happy staff–satisfied customer” connection and good employer reputation.

Yes, he said, there must always be a good reason for spending the company’s money, but beyond that his simple mantra was: Never forget that employees are people!

There was a level of humanity behind his otherwise hard-headed Chinese-businessman style. And he practised this maxim at a time when employees were not knowledge workers and did not have as much bargaining power as they do today.

Most employers today recognise the groundswell of demand for work-life strategies by workers. Work-life harmony does not appear to be just another management fad that will fade away with time.

For employees, the forces driving the demand for balance will only grow stronger: frequent business travel, intense market competition, a leaner workforce, increasing number of nuclear, dual-income families, an ageing population and a very competitive educational system.

So, for enlightened employers who are in tune with the principle that well-balanced employees make for an engaged and productive workforce, the business case for work-life balance is not a difficult one to make.

Regardless of how much focus an organisation puts on work-life balance, experience tells me that the individual employee and his or her key stakeholders (for example, supervisor, spouse, children) play a big part in making it happen on the ground.

Work-life balance is essentially about people remembering what matters most at defining moments in life — so that they can make well-informed life choices that are aligned with what they really desire.

For the individual employee, it is about remembering the key people in life who give him a strong sense of purpose, and who cherishing their time with him.

For the supervisor, it is about remembering your subordinates’ long-term needs while reacting to short-term work demands. Remember to exercise discretion to accommodate individual needs arising from exigencies, while administering corporate-wide policies. Remember to recuperate and celebrate, while pushing relentlessly for high standards of performance.

From being mindful of our priorities and considerate to our co-workers and subordinates, we cultivate an awareness that influences the way we view the world, the way we do things and the way we spend our time.

We all want to succeed in life. While there may be different definitions of what success means, one notion is widely upheld: no success is real when it jeopardises key relationships in our lives.

We can’t truly be successful — no matter what we accomplish — if we lose our families or our significant ones somewhere along the work-life value chain.