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Opinion piece

National Work Life Week: Embracing flexible working to create a better work/life balance

Creating a good work/life balance must be embedded at every level of an organisation’s culture. A good work/life balance can reduce stress related workplace absences, enhance wellbeing and productivity, and enable greater workforce inclusion.

However, for all the benefits of building a good work/life balanced working culture, many workers continue to find it difficult to ‘switch off’ from work related pressures. Research in June carried out by YouGov for Business in the Community found that over half (55%) of employees felt pressured to respond to work emails and calls outside of their contracted hours. Furthermore, just under half (45%) felt they could switch off from work. Furthermore, just under half (45%) felt they could switch off from work. We also found this when speaking to members and employees when writing our discussion paper, “Ping Dread”.

This should be cause for concern, especially when research is increasingly showing that a good work life balance is at the top of employee wish lists. Research this month shows that a third of workers (32%) would leave their position for a better work/life balance. Furthermore, just under a third say that they would leave their role to find a better lifestyle.

Making flexibility the norm

Flexible working options can be part of the solution. There are a variety of flexible working options but some of the most common examples include home and hybrid working, condensed days, flexitime, and job shares.

Whilst flexible working is not a panacea, it can remove barriers for staff and enable them to have greater control over their working lives. Two-thirds of office-based workers believe that introducing greater flexibility at their workplace would support their physical and mental wellbeing.

Working flexibly can be particularly important for disabled staff, many of whom need to manage their health conditions, deal with fatigue, and attend appointments (as just a few examples). The Work Foundation finds, for instance, that 70 per cent of disabled workers believe it would impact their health if they were unable to work remotely.

Although hybrid forms of working should not always be automatically conflated with flexible working (some hybrid working patterns are just as rigid as the traditional office-based ways of working) it goes to show that staff wellbeing can improve if employees are trusted to work flexibly.

However, genuine flexibility is not simply about whether an employee works at home all of the time, part of the time or in the office every day. Some of the most stressed employees in a workforce will be those who work from home without clear boundaries between their work and personal life.

The key to enabling staff to thrive will always revolve around understanding their individual needs and where support is required. Employers that consult with staff and provide the right training and interventions will be well placed to take advantage of the benefits of flexible working.

With more and more workers seeking out a better work/life balance, employers that offer genuine flexibility will be an attractive proposition in a competitive labour market.

National Work Life Week takes place 10-14 October 2022. Working Families | National Work Life Week – Working Families

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