Scaling work-life balance
Many of us are no strangers to our homes being transformed into make-shift offices, classrooms and even gyms. Our usual relaxation spaces may no longer feel as welcoming. Key workers are covering additional shifts and the pressures of working in COVID risk environments are presenting both physical and mental demands on these essential staff. They are not only taking significant time away from their homes and families but the usual fulfilment they usually feel is being replaced with dread. Never has the pressure for work-life balance been so apparent.
16 years ago I completed my Masters Dissertation comparing Work-life Balance between 156 employees in Scotland and Australia in the Private, Public and Third Sectors. More than three quarters of respondents said flexibility of working options was important in achieving work-life balance with an equal distribution between genders. Almost 90% of respondents in Australia had flexible starting and finish times with 28% of these having full control over their working hours. In Scotland 47% stated there was no flexibility with hours of work and only 2% stated they have full control over their hours. According to Scottish Employer Perspectives Survey 2019, only 47% of employers who have experienced a vacancy advertised a role that would be suited to flexible working. Of course, WLB is more than just flexible working so what it is?
Work-life balance is about people having a measure of control over when, where and how they work. It is achieved when an individual's right to a fulfilled life inside and outside paid work is accepted and respected as the norm, to the mutual benefit of the individual, business and society.” (www.employersforwork-lifebalance.org.uk, 2005)
My research noted that work-life balance is achieved when individuals have a fulfilled life inside and outside paid work by encouraging flexible working locations, hours of work and available benefits. Achieving this requires political and legal agendas to change and clearly this has never been more in the spotlight. Forced changes have shown huge benefits for some employees whilst others are silently struggling. According to People Management (19.02.21) many people are feeling pressure to be contactable outside of their normal working hours. With travel restrictions, people are also neglecting their annual leave. Demands to work may be higher due to some businesses struggling to sustain revenues. Further, some staff remain on furlough, others have been made redundant, reducing the available labour pool. For employees or individuals I am working with, we are now seeing increased absence rates due to COVID, forced caring responsibilities and of course burnout.
Work-life balance is impacted by external and internal influences and these must be reviewed to make sense of the dilemma. The model above I created some 16 years ago stands true. Had we not been forced to make these changes by political leaders with the legal consequences and reputational damage being at the forefront of many leaders’ minds, we would still be debating the merits and risks of flexible working. This stands for employees too as many would never have considered the opportunity this has presented with more than half the people I speak to saying they’d like to retain some homeworking.
Clearly our wider culture is pivotal in shifting the imbalance between work and life as evidenced by many other countries. Organisations too need to understand the holistic benefits of work-life balance in terms of health and welfare, employability and sustainability. Mangers must be informed and trained to relate the individual need to organisational success. However, I believe the greatest catalysts for change are the individuals themselves. Personality, perception, attitudes and beliefs are strong influencers in achieving a work-life balance with individual motivators at play. It is us as individuals whom have accommodated the new way of working into our lives and it is us as individuals who can sustain the change as we want it. Flexible working requests are a statutory right, working time regulations are there to protect rest times, health and safety legislation has never been so focused and our employment rights remain whether we work at home or otherwise.
As an HR professional and member of the International Stress Management Association, plus I am a psychotherapist, I have the experience to support organisations and individuals both reactively and proactively to change. That’s if you want to.
I will finish with these statements.
THERE ARE POSITIVES FROM THIS CRISIS.
THERE IS HOPE FOR A CERTAIN FUTURE.
WORK AND LIFE CAN BE BALANCED.
Let’s work together to make it happen @moonstir.