The fast-pace of modern life brings a busy dynamic to business in the UK and often leads to long working hours. Technology has enriched our lives in so many ways, including by creating more work. In doing so, it has also made work more accessible and no longer necessarily a physical place that we need to attend. Mobile phones mean that we are always ‘on’, creating pressure to keep the plates spinning 24 hours a day.
Working Time Directive
The European Working Time Directive limits the working week to 48 hours on the continent. The UK opted out of this, and with Brexit just around the corner, there could be a further widening of the difference between our working lives on either side of the English Channel.
Family and social life can suffer as a result of long working hours, leading to difficulties with relationships, burn-out and lack of perspective. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 40% of employees neglect other aspects of their lives by working long hours.
Mental Health Foundation statistics also indicate that one in six people in the UK experiences a mental health problem during their lives. Over 10 million days are lost each year due to stress associated with working long hours. Amongst those working long hours, 61% become depressed and anxious, while 58% admit to feeling irritable.
While employers have a right to expect commitment, enthusiasm and hard work, those who are more enlightened do not want their staff to devote every waking hour to their job. Employers have a duty of care and are responsible for ensuring that the demands of work do not take an unreasonable toll on their staff. The best employers realise the importance of work-life balance and are starting to implement more formal ways to address this through workplace policies and different ways of working.
Why work-life balance matters
People do their best work when they are feeling good about all aspects of their lives. They are better able to be present and engaged in projects and activities when they have had a break or have been able to meet their family commitments. Staff who are rested contribute to better workplace morale; they are more creative, more focused on innovation and improvement, and more likely to invest discretionary effort in your business. Conversely, people who feel stressed, anxious and irritable are more likely to be weak team players, poor communicators, and have a dampening effect on the morale of the organisation.
Savvy employers know that they must look after their people and in return, their workforce will be committed and engaged, with a lower rate of absence.
What can you do to promote a healthy work-life balance?
- Foster a culture of openness about time constraints and workload so that staff are able to raise their hand when they are feeling under undue pressure
- Update your policies to ensure that mental health and well-being are explicitly covered by absence policies
- Ensure that roles and responsibilities outline clearly how you expect managers to promote positive mental health and how they should support those with health issues
- Demonstrate your understanding that mental health is just as valid as a physical illness. Allow staff to attend counselling sessions or access other support during working hours if they need to.
- Provide training for managers in how to spot poor work-life balance issues, and the different ways in which stress manifests itself amongst individuals
- Don’t foster a long-hours culture by working around the clock yourself. As a leader, your behaviour sets expectations for the wider team.
- Encourage people to work more smartly, avoid wasting time in unnecessary meetings and enable flexibility wherever possible.
- As a manager, keep a close eye on what individuals are being asked to do. Is it fair and manageable within the available time?
- Organise, or allow time for, exercise or relaxation sessions during lunch breaks, or offer to fund gym membership. At least make sure that people take regular breaks and avoid sitting at a PC for long spells.
Ultimately, weighing out the ingredients of work and life equally amongst your team will balance out the benefits for everyone and help to enrich your business.