National Work-Life Week runs from 2nd to 6th October 2017. It is an opportunity for both employers and employees to focus on well-being at work and work-life balance.
I feel most people struggle to get the right work-life balance. From those with families who feel that they cannot win at or work and are either failing in both areas or just managing to sustain both. They however that they walk the tightrope and one wrong move could lead them to tumble! To those who are single who feel the pressure to work harder and longer hours because of the assumption that their commitments are not the same.
Work-life balance is a struggle and that struggle seems to get harder as technology develops and invades personal time or holidays. It is increasingly harder to disconnect from work as a result of cloud-based platforms: iPads, laptops, apps and mobile phones. Work can be a click or touch away at any time. Those provided with mobile phones, laptops and/or access to an app that allows them to check work emails are either expected to check and reply to their work emails out of hours or they feel an expectation on them to do so. Such a practice carries the risk of stress, burnout, sleep problems and relationship difficulties.This can also lead to unpaid overtime.
Right to disconnect
Perhaps we need to take a leaf out of France’s book. France has a working week of 35 hours which it has done so since 2000. France has also passed a new law called the ‘right to disconnect’ which came into force on 1 January 2017. French companies have to guarantee their employees a ‘right to disconnect’ from technology as the country seeks to tackle out of hours email checking. The ‘right to disconnect’ requires that companies with 50 workers or above draw a charter of good conduct. This sets out the hours which staff are not supposed to send or answer emails.
The blame for burnout to sleeplessness and relationship problems goes to the overuse of digital devices. Many employees seem either uncertain of a time to switch off or struggling to switch off if they know they can access their work account. The ‘right to disconnect’ intends to tackle the so-called ‘always on’ work culture. This has led to a surge in regular unpaid overtime whilst giving employees the flexibility to work outside the office. Whilst workers enjoy the autonomy and flexibility that digital devices give them, employees need a cut-off point and the opportunity to be able to switch off to get the rest they require.
Under the ‘right to disconnect,’ companies must negotiate with employees to agree on their right to switch off. Ways to reduce the intrusion of work into their private lives also needs addressing. The Company must reach a deal or publish a charter that would make explicit the demands on, and rights of, employees out of hours.
As an employer, you need to look at the challenges that come with flexibility. These boundaries need to be managed between work and home. Every employee works in a different way and the positive effect of the ‘right to disconnect’ is the encouragement of employers having conversations with their employees to discuss their expectations and what works for them.
At the beginning of this year, the Modern Families Index reported that a third of UK fathers felt they burnt out on a regular basis. One in five worked long hours! The Charity Working Families has found that approximately a third of fathers would like to take a pay cut to achieve a better work-life balance. The Charity stated that employers need to provide greater help to dads take an active role in childcare.
The Chief Executive of the Fatherhood Institute, Adrienne Burgess, criticised Shared Parental Leave. She has stated that “the new system was bigged up as Shared Parental Leave and it is nothing of the sort.” She has explained that, in reality, it is transferable maternal leave. Fathers have no automatic right to it, and few met the conditions.
The Women and Equalities Committee launched an inquiry into fathers in the workplace. The Committee Chair, Maria Miller, stated that investing in policies to let men and women share childcare will reap financial benefits and reduce the gender pay gap.
Employers need to achieve a happy balance between work and life and to ensure that employees do not burn out. You should consider undertaking a Company Questionnaire or meeting with employees at the appraisal process to find out what works best for your employees. A happy worker is a productive worker. You could reap the benefits by making a few changes to keep your workforce happy. Alternatively, you risk facing increased sickness absence, work-related stress or losing good employees.