The pandemic made many people reassess their work/life balance. Once this is all over, plenty will be looking to make serious changes. Here’s what businesses can do to support them
For many employees, the concept of a work/life balance was turned on its head by the COVID-19 pandemic. For every person who joyfully wondered what to do with the time they regained by not commuting, another lamented how on earth to juggle their workload with homeschooling their children or looking after vulnerable relatives.
The one thing most could agree on was how much normal working life was disrupted. Two Gallup Panel surveys conducted 13-16 March and 27-29 March showed the percentage of full-time employees who said COVID-19 had disrupted their life “a great deal” or “a fair amount” jumped to 81%, up from 58%.
With things beginning to settle again, many employees will be looking to establish a better work/life balance that supports their future mental health and productivity. And businesses will need to be sensitive to these needs if they want to get the best from them. Below are five things to consider.
Empower staff to work flexibly
When you ask employees what they think would help them establish a better work/life balance, ‘flexibility’ comes up repeatedly. According to a survey by HR experts Sage, 81% of employees place importance and value on flexible working – wanting to be trusted to manage when, where and how they work.
“Creating a flexible work environment is one of the best ways to satisfy the work/life balance needs of most employees – whatever their generation,” says corporate wellness expert, Alan Kohll in Forbes. “A flexible work environment has been shown to decrease stress, boost levels of job satisfaction and help employees maintain healthier habits. Employers should offer flexible work hours [and] the ability to work from home to create a more flexible work environment that appeals across generations of workers.”
Increase support for parents
Following the closure of schools in the UK in March, Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development called for employers to “make allowances [for the school closure] and take a flexible approach, especially for people with younger children who will inevitably need more care.”
“There may be limited space and limited equipment to manage both parents and children working from home each day. There will be disruption,” he continued. “Employees should speak to their line managers and HR teams to understand how they can best balance family and work commitments, especially as this stands to be for a prolonged period of time.”
Even with schools re-opening, companies should try to remember the everyday pressures placed on employees with children. “[Lockdown] rules have shattered the myth that working from home is easier than working from an office,” says Elizabeth Cibor, Senior Director, Global Marketing at Harman, speaking to Forbes. “I hope we’ll see greater acceptance of flexible schedules to accommodate life outside of work and that children and family won’t remain invisible in business settings,” she says.
“As teams return to work and many employees continue to juggle heavy work demands with personal stress, it’s important for companies to foster a culture of compassion,” says Dr Amy Bradley in Personnel Today. She reports that, in compassionate work environments, employees also report higher levels of engagement, as well as fostering trust and teamwork.
“And compassion is not just about feeling good by doing good – it also builds the bottom line,” Bradley adds. “Researchers from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University School of Business have detected a clear, positive correlation between compassionate behaviour, work satisfaction and company success… Organisations that are built around compassion have been found to generate better financial performance and experience high levels customer retention.”
Enable employees to work closer to home
In a pre-pandemic study by IWG, 70% of UK professionals said they believed that working closer to home would improve their health. Further analysis of the figures revealed some of the reasons why, with 81% saying it would allow them to spend more time on their hobbies, and 69% saying they would be able to visit the gym more regularly.
And, while pre-COVID -19 the temptation might have been to set up at home when offered the option to work flexibly, the practical experience of doing it has highlighted the downsides, including interruptions, a lack of suitable space, and possibly isolation and loneliness.
The solution could be for businesses to flexspace – flexible office space closer to where workers live. “Drop-in, flexible workspaces that are situated close to home are recognised as beneficial to worker health and happiness,” says Richard Morris, CEO of IWG UK. “These spaces are typically professionally designed to couple productive working areas with break-out zones and areas for sharing ideas and inspiration. Professionals using this space are able to remain motivated and productive whilst avoiding the expensive and draining commutes that continue to affect so many businesspeople.”
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