How work-life balance has changed & what employers need to do

It is important for employees to have a work-life balance. Work-life balance is basically how much time employees spend working and how much they spend with family or doing things that they enjoy.

At times it is hard for employees to get the right work life balance, however having a good work life balance is vital. It improves their health and wellbeing, helps keep their stress levels to a minimum, and also helps prevent burnout.

It goes without saying, if an employee spends excessive hours per week in the office working, eventually they are likely to suffer burnout and possibly mental health issues as well. Having a good work life balance, contributes to a healthier working environment and ultimately a more effective and productive workplace.

Every employee has different work-life balance levels, it can depend on people’s personal circumstances, such as their age, commitments, career goals, family life, hobbies etc.

Work life balance was first heard of in the UK around the late 70s/early 80s, over recent years employees and employers have become more aware of it and have adapted ways of work to help achieve a good work life balance. This has been assisted with changes in technologies that have allowed employees to be able to stay in touch any day or time of the week.

How employees can achieve a good work life balance

Employees must ensure they balance their work and life as an unhealthy work-life balance can lead to emotional, physical, relationship and even financial problems.

To achieve a good work-life balance, employees must look at what demands their job requires of them and what their demands and commitments their personal life entails. Once these have been established employees then must create individual rules for them to achieve the balance between the two.

This can be achieved by:

  • Having boundaries between work and personal life, for example employees being strict and not checking their work emails at the weekend or when they are having a day off from the office.
  • Prioritising tasks that need to be done and getting this task done first.
  • Setting time daily to do things they enjoy, such as going for a walk, attending a gym class, or having tea with their children.
  • Not taking on too much work and learning to say no if you do not have enough time to take on extra activities.

Benefits to employers from work-life balance

Employers also benefit from their employee having good work life balance and therefore should have a vested interest in ensuring a good work life balance. Employees who are happy in their work ultimately are more productive in the workplace which helps to improve the company’s productivity.

If employees are unhappy at work, overworked and stressed, they will look to leave the company. There are high costs associated with employees leaving workplaces.

Employers can look to support their employees with a better work life balance through the following ways:

  • Offering flexible working options and working remotely, can keep a balance and maintain employee morale, which means employees are less likely to look to leave the company and have more commitment and loyalty to the company.
  • Encourage employees to take their rest breaks daily and to have these breaks away from the working environment.
  • Review workloads of employees and listen to employees if they say they have too much on.
  • Encourage employees to work smarter not harder, focus should be on productivity and outcomes and not just hours worked.
  • Encourage employees to use their annual leave entitlement.

How things changed during the pandemic

Since March 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK, there has been a massive shift in how employees work. Working remotely from home has become the normal for lots of employees. Many companies moved overnight to homeworking as previously they did not allow employees the flexibility of home working, or flexible working and most did not have a home working policy in place.

The pandemic has proven that certain industries can still operate effectively if they operate remote working.

The pandemic forced employers to change their ways of thinking and companies who already had flexible working options in place for employees before the pandemic were able to carry on business with little or no disruption than those companies who did not.

Technologies including Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Blue Jeans have all been used by companies to allow video conferencing between colleagues, customers, clients and suppliers to take place rather than these conversations being done via phone calls or emails.

During the first few months of the pandemic, some employees found it hard to work remotely, they were missing the interaction with colleagues and the office environment, some found themselves having to home-school children at the same time as trying to continue their jobs and others struggled with space or having the right equipment to carry out their role.

Working from home for a lot of people was a new concept which took time to get used to. After months of being at home employees did start to get used to their new way of working.

Employers however must be mindful to ensure that they support any remote workers, working remotely can make employees at times feel isolated and not part of the team as they are away from the office environment. Managers must ensure they regularly check in with employees and hold video team calls so colleagues can see and talk to each other.

How things may look in 2021

Remote working from home and/or shorter working weeks will still be an attractive option in 2021 as the ‘old’ way of working does not look likely to return soon. Currently, there are talks of extending the UK lockdown further or that other restrictions will be put in place until at least spring 2021.

Due to the rise in cases across the UK, where remote working has been proven to be a success, it would be a good option for employers to continue with this for their employees, rather than have employees all returning to office environments at the same time.  Obviously working from home is not an option for all employees some are unable to do their work remotely.

Not all companies will be able to look at employees continuing to work from home on a permanent basis, but some may start to consider whether this could be a permanent option. Moving towards more flexible working options could allow employers to reconsider office spaces and the costs associated with these.

How employers can act upon these changes

Many companies following the pandemic are adapting the way they operate as they have seen how remote and flexible working options can work for their business as well as employees. They are also looking at how they can attract and retain staff. By introducing flexible working, it can change how businesses operate and can provide an edge over any competitors when recruiting. When candidates are looking for a new position, they will look for companies that offer flexible working options.

Employers must ensure they implement a flexible working policy in place including a working from home policy if they do not already have one.

A working from home policy should include the following:

  • Which employees can work from home?
  • Equipment required for employees and the costs.
  • Expectations of home working.
  • Health and Safety for home workers.
  • Company Security and Data Protection.
  • Monitoring Performance for remote workers.
  • Hours of Work.
  • Agreements of Home Working, what is acceptable and not acceptable.
  • Methods of Communication for remote workers.

This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Michael Doolin. Michael created Clover HR with the ambition of demonstrating the value the HR function can add to SME businesses. He has more than 30 years of diverse Human Resources experience and has held board director positions and designed and developed HR strategy for some of Europe’s leading brands.

Last updated: 13th March, 2021

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