Work. Life. Balance. Does it really exist?
22 June 2016
5 min read
“I’ll just clear my inbox so I get a head start tomorrow morning.”
It’s one we’ve all struggled with on lazy Sunday afternoons when we should be relaxing, or, increasingly, every other night of the week.
Fuelled by advances in mobile technology and the cloud, remote working has blurred the lines between desk time and home time. When emails arrive all day every day and throughout the night, it’s difficult to know when it’s OK to stop working. This can lead to spiralling workloads and the inability to switch off.
When work and home begin merging, the risk of stress rises. A survey by the British government revealed that women are significantly more stressed than men, particularly those aged 25-34 and 35-44.
Small businesses of less than 50 employees suffered 910 cases of work related stress per 100,00 people employed. Medium businesses (50-249) suffered 1280 cases and large businesses (250+) suffered 1550 cases.
Absence related to stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 15.2 million lost days of employment in 2013, which was up from 11.8 million in 2010. In Germany, 14% of missed working days are due to psychological illness such as burnout. This has risen 50% in 12 years.
Meanwhile in France, where more than three million workers are at high risk of job-related burnout, the government is stepping in and wants to ban out of hours emails.
“Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work… The texts, the messages, the emails - they colonise the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.” Commented Socialist MP Benoit Hamon.
Being unable to establish a healthy balance between work and life requires a combination of great technology and a willingness make the experience as easy as possible.
How businesses can help promote a healthy work/life balance
Acknowledging that work related stress exists is a big but a crucial first step. Develop policies designed to raise awareness of work related stress and promote them around the workplace, along with what steps to take if someone is suffering.
In a survey by Sage, business owners ranked the following as important for a good work/life balance:
• 43% flexible working
• 40% the right culture
• 7% technology
• 4% attitude
• 3% good staff
It’s no surprise to see flexible working and technology in the top three, since the two are so closely linked. It’s impossible for people to have a seamless experience between their office and their home if the technology they’re using can’t support the way they need to work.
Which means the way we work now isn’t organic or intuitive. As workers we can only work as well as our tools will allow. By being forced to adapt to technology, instead of the other way around, the potential of a workforce is severely limited. When every task becomes slower, more complicated and frustrating, working days get longer, stress levels rise and productivity drops.
The productivity benefits of working remotely are negated by inefficient tech that hinders rather than helps. It doesn’t matter whether someone works from home, a client’s office or a coffee shop, if they’re using tech that isn’t suited to this new, flexible way of working then their experience will suffer.
Offer flexible remote working
Giving someone the flexibility to work their way, be it around family commitments or avoiding a tricky commute every day, can feel like a lifeline and immediately alleviate unnecessary stress and pressure.
“At BT, flexible working is business as usual. Already seven out of 10 people work flexibly and nearly 10% are homebased. It has saved the company millions in terms of increased productivity and cut costs. It has also motivated our people and released more potential.” Said Sir Christopher Bland, Chairman, BT Group. The data to back this up is impressive:
• BT homeworkers take 63% less sick leave than office-based counterparts
• Retention rate following maternity leave is 99%
• Absentee rate down 63% - 20% lower than UK average
If organising a school run is causing a parent to arrive late and stressed every morning, then why not bump their start time by 30 minutes? It’s the small things like that which can make someone’s day and boost their productivity and loyalty.
IDC research found a direct correlation between flexible working and happiness. Respondents in the Nordics (88 percent), Austria (84 percent), and Spain (81 percent) – countries with high levels of flexible working – had the highest scores for happiness.
Encourage a culture of openness
In today’s workplace the stress from tight budgets and even tighter deadlines mean employees need feel understood and supported by their employers. Acknowledging there might be extra pressure will help people to speak up and stop them feeling unsupported, overwhelmed and frustrated with infrastructure and other problems.
By seeing what causes people stress, such as needlessly complicated processes or outdated technology, steps can be taken to strengthen the business. Working remotely with inadequate technology can feel like being in a digital exile. For example, 32% of EMEA-based respondents to this Ensa survey said that working remotely reduces their access to company information and involvement in team activities.
Having a reliable, constant connection which enables team members to reach out via IM or a video chat can help form working relationships which make them feel valued and included in a seamless experience.
This can only happen with the right tech. If it takes 20 minutes to connect to a remote server and corporate apps won’t work on their own or the company’s mobile devices, then people will spend their time talking to IT instead of collaborating and innovating products and processes.
A Salesforce study revealed that 95% of execs cited a lack of collaboration and ineffective communication as the primary causes of workplace failures.
Save good people from bad technology
Despite a business’ best efforts and initiatives, sometimes people are resigned to a situation and don’t feel like change can occur.
Train managers to spot stress, frustrations and the effects of a poor work/life balance. If an entire team isn’t able communicating in real time because of apps that constantly lose connection, then a problem with the infrastructure needs to be escalated.
This can lead to a knock on effect with personal happiness and the success of future projects: 97% of employees believe that a lack of alignment within a team can impact the success of tasks and projects.
Back this up with anonymous staff satisfaction surveys and use the results to see what people are worried about, what they love about working for your company and how to do more of it.