Work-Life Balance: Getting it Right in Your Organisation

Time to take a break

With longer hours, unpaid overtime and emails keeping smartphones buzzing at all hours of the night, the UK’s workers have less and less time to unwind, spend time with their families, and focus on their own health and wellbeing instead of their workload.

We’re putting the focus on you – what’s the work-life balance like for you and your organisation? Ask yourself the following questions:

Do you take breaks from work?

The HSE advises that people who work with “visual display units” (essentially a fancy word for computer screens) should aim to take a five to ten-minute break for every hour of continuous screen use.

The law also says that you’re entitled to one uninterrupted 20-minute rest break during any working day longer than six hours, 11 hours’ rest between working days (e.g. if you finish at 11PM, you shouldn’t start working again until 10AM), and an uninterrupted 24 hours without work each week (or 48 hours each fortnight).

Are you making sure you’re spending enough time away from your screen and office?

Can your employees take breaks from work?

You may be able to take breaks, but can your employees? Are workers pressured to stay at their desks rather than getting a coffee or taking a toilet break? Is a focus on hitting targets keeping people from taking lunch? Do some have to trade comfort breaks for time out of their lunch?

Are people scheduled for late finishes followed by early starts? Are staff working over the weekend while you’re at home? Senior staff may have their own offices at work with space to take a break, but do those working in open-plan areas have a break-out space to get away from their desks for a while?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then your team may be finding it harder to get away from work than you do.

Do you answer emails outside of work?

Stepping away from emails outside of work is difficult, especially when work emails are directed straight to your smartphone.

Having a work phone and a personal phone is an easy way to keep things separate, but the temptation to take a peek on evenings, weekends and holidays can be overpowering. The thing is, it often doesn’t actually improve productivity, as in many circumstances there’ll be nothing you can do until you’re back in the office.

It’s just added stress, and a distraction from your personal life. Worse still, if it becomes the norm rather than the exception, it can be a key factor in poor rates of staff retention.

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Do you send emails outside of work?

You’ve just had a thought for something your team needs to do tomorrow, and you don’t want to forget it. Do you write it down or make a note on our phone, or do you fire off a quick email to your employees asking them to action it first thing?

As a manager, it’s a bit easier to ignore an email from your employees than it is for them to ignore an email from you. Among British workers, as many as 32% of people are worried about losing their jobs, and 38% of people are anxious about their pay being cut – so who wants to get on the bad side of the boss by ignoring an email?

If you have staff who need to be mobile during working hours, then encouraging them to switch off at home – or providing them with a separate work phone – is an important part of improving work-life balance. If there really is an out-of-hours emergency, then it needs a phone call – firing off emails for anything less only ensures that people are unable to get away from work.

Do you take care of your health?

Booking doctor’s appointments when you’re under the weather, going to the gym, seeking out specialist treatments – whether counselling or chiropractors – as needed is all absolutely essential for taking care of yourself, but it’s something we tend to neglect.

A lot of services may be too busy or closed at the weekends, so remember that it’s ok to take time out of work to do these things, even if it just means a slightly later start in the morning – and don’t forget the importance of taking a sick day when you need to!

Do you consider the health of your employees?

Statutory sick pay is actually quite restricted – employees need to take more than three days off to get it, and then (at the time of writing) it’s only £94.25 a week. It means that, for many workers in the UK, taking a day or two off with the flu means a slightly reduced pay packet at the end of the month.

When organisations do offer full sick pay, it can often be discretionary, with plenty of hoops to jump through to receive it. Even if your sick pay policy is very fair in practice, employees may feel pressured not to take time off if they don’t understand how it works.

Senior salaries may be able to pay for specialist care, counselling or gym memberships, but can staff lower down in your organisation? Health cover, corporate gym memberships and lifestyle support benefits can help everyone in your organisation access the same standard of care.

Do you ever work from home?

Sometimes it would just be so much easier if you could work from home.

You’re having building work done at the house, your kids are off sick from school, your childminder’s on holiday, you’re expecting an Amazon delivery of the entire family’s Christmas presents – whatever it is, it would distract you from work in the office. So why go in?

With VPNs, Google Docs, email, Slack and so much more, it’s entirely possible to work from home every now and then.

Can your employees work from home too?

You can work from home whenever you like – but do you offer your employees the same luxury? It won’t be possible in every workplace, of course, but if staff could work efficiently from home then it’s worth giving them the option.

Some organisations offer a set number of work-from-home days each year to let employees choose with no questions asked, rather than approving each and every request – as long as they’re getting their work done, does it matter why they’re out of the office?

So, how does the work-life balance shape up for your organisation? Is it equal for everyone? For more advice, Working Families – the charity behind National Work-Life Week have plenty of great resources, and you can also take a look at our blog for more expert comment on employee benefits and motivation.

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