National Work Life Week 2021
12 October, 2021
Author: Elizabeth Hardwick-Smith
National Work Life Week is Working Families’ annual campaign to get both employers and employees talking about wellbeing at work and work-life balance. It follows hot on the heels of National Inclusion Week and World Mental Health Day, both significant factors in influencing the nationwide drive for greater flexibility across all employers in the UK.
National Work Life Week provides an opportunity for employers to not only showcase the opportunities for flexibility within their organisations but also to dig deeper into this subject to put under the spotlight aspects such as creating the right culture for flexibility, the role it plays in our health and how we can exploit it to attract and retain a diverse workforce.
Working life has recently been re-imagined in many industries and as we look to accommodate more changes to work patterns in the post-COVID era we can expect the environment to remain dynamic. The covid-19 remote working period and the shift to more hybrid methods has accelerated the implementation of flexible working practices world-wide. Employers have seen the benefits of their staff fitting the work task to the location by way of greater productivity. It has also been positively reported that managers are responding and shifting their mindset towards output-oriented measures of performance, recognising that hours worked is not a reliable measure of contribution.
Likewise, having survived a year of disruption and change to work and family life, it’s clear that many parents are keen to retain the positives that have come out of the pandemic. A more flexible approach to working life has enabled them to enjoy and share more equally their caring responsibilities at home such as childcare and housework, as well as for some – whether parents or non-parents, to make more personal time for themselves.
The demand for flexibility is now so high that prospective candidates will turn down job opportunities if they lack flexibility, thus narrowing the talent pool on offer for those recruiting. Employers who are less flexible are not only missing out on fantastic new talent, but will also have great difficulties in retaining the talent they have. So how do we get the balance right between employer and employee needs, and ensure that flexible working is successful and sustainable for both parties?
If you’re a leader you may wish to consider how you create the right climate for flexibility by considering the following:
- Be clear on how you’ll support a culture for flexible working. Articulate what you need and want from each other with regard to workplace behaviours and frequency of office attendance and communication. Be transparent by developing a set of guiding flexible working principles. These should focus on ensuring any offering is well structured, inclusive, is empathetic and improves wellbeing as well as productivity. Publish these principles and reinforce them frequently so that they are understood, shared and fairly applied.
- Managing teams across hybrid and flexible working patterns is completely different to the traditional team management structures we had in place pre-covid. Managers are now faced with managing teams on multiple schedules across different locations. They require new ways of communicating, agreeing expectations, measuring progress and keeping staff inspired. Training for line managers has emerged as one of the most pressing needs for organisations to drive forward in order to ensure that the ‘right work, right place’ approach is successfully realised. Ignore the need for management guidance at your peril!
- Be sensitive to the risk of burnout. Whilst hybrid working might seem like the perfect solution to an engaged, healthy and productive workplace it is not without its own risks. People have been getting burned out “living at work” and whilst attending the office part of the week will help bring some balance, staff will ultimately need to get back to commuting and organising themselves across two workplaces – the office and home. Pay close attention, talk to staff regularly and look for signs of burnout. You may need to revisit some agreed arrangements if they’re not working as well as expected.
If you’re an employee looking for more balance in your life here are some aspects to think about:
- Finding more work-life balance isn’t just about the hours you’re doing or where you’re working, it’s also about how you use the personal time you have to good effect. If you find that you’re thinking about work long after you’ve shutdown your device develop a strategy to wind down. This may include, but not be limited to making a daily exit list – what do you need to do tomorrow? Or write out what you’ve achieved today so that you spend more time focusing on the good than beating yourself up about things you didn’t get done. You might also try some mindfulness, a relaxing hobby or engaging in physical exercise to help you burn off any stress.
- Stay organised and aware of your priorities. Stop trying to do everything all at once. Instead, identify and focus on three most important priorities for home and three most important priorities for work. Taking this approach will mean that you drop a lot of the mental load of those “I really shoulds” and focus your time on the priority tasks which ultimately lead to you feeling less guilty and more in control.
- Trust is a critical part of flexible working, on both sides of the fence. A survey of 2,000 workers, conducted by Kadence, found that since the start of the pandemic 62 per cent reported feeling more trusted to do their job effectively, while nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) felt a greater sense of trust because they were not being micromanaged. This in turn has a positive impact on productivity and engagement. Recognise the role you play in building trust – regular and effective communication on progress is key to this. Be proactive in how you communicate with your colleagues and your line manager and use the tools available to you to engage others and keep people informed on how you’re progressing.