I doubt that anyone would disagree that a good work/life balance is a good thing, but seemingly this, for many, is only a theoretical aspiration. Why does this possibility go out the window when it comes to practice?
Why do so many people find themselves working crazy hours week in, week out, with no light at the end of the tunnel? And at what cost does this all-consuming element have on the rest of workers’ lives?
Seemingly gone are the days of a Monday to Friday 9-5 job. What is put down as core contracted hours are rarely achievable as companies expect more and more commitment from their staff, measured by time in the office. Even to the point where colleagues who leave on time are being marked down for doing so. Or asked if they are ‘doing a half day’. Instead of being congratulated for managing their time so effectively that they are able to do so. In many companies it is seen as the only way to move up the corporate ladder. Waiting until the boss has put their coat on and has one foot out the office door before feeling able to shut down and finally leave, whether they’ve had work to do or not. According to the TUC, workers in Briton in 2016 put in 2.1bn unpaid hours.
What kind of culture are we setting in the workplace when this is deemed the norm, or an expected way of working, and what kind of message does that give to our clients?
This is not helped by the continued cuts to employees, increasing the workload for the remaining few. Not only does this add exponential pressure, but increases the chance of people working in silos, unable to afford time to work collaboratively or support one another.
Given that companies still constantly talk about their staff being their most important asset, none of these actions indicates this to be true. There must be a better way. If work becomes a chore, and too pressured then people will start to resent it. Certainly within my own section of the industry, creativity is not something you can overly pressurise without expecting something to be compromised. The answers are not a one size fits all that can be turned on and off at will. People can’t function creatively 120% all the time. Something is going to give, either the quality of work, their passion and drive in the project or their health, both mentally and physically.
Anxiety, stress, depression or burn out are the only winners in these scenarios. People look after themselves less well through lack of sleep and because they are time poor, eating crap because their body needs quick fixes. Then they reward themselves at the end of the day with alcohol in order unwind and help them get to sleep, which will undoubtedly be poor sleep and so the cycle continues. Coupled with the fact that they have no work/life balance so cracks will start to show in relationships with partners, friends, and families who have been de-prioritised.
I realise that I am in danger of going off into a rant, if I’ve not done so already, but hopefully you’ll agree this is not wholly unfamiliar.
Now I’m not suggesting that we should do a complete 180 and everyone should be slacking off. Far from it, people can work incredibly hard in a concentrated amount of time, and from places other than the office. The time spent on something isn’t the same for the quality produced. The age-old quality, not quantity saying works to great effect here. Evidence suggests that productivity actually increases hour for hour if you work fewer hours overall. And if people are less stressed they are less likely to be off work.
Trust people more, give them more responsibility and ownership of the work they have been tasked with. They know the deadlines and when work needs to be reviewed and delivered. If we can’t even do that, why did we employ them in the first place? And if they don’t deliver, they are also clever enough to understand the consequences.
With the advancements of technology, the world is becoming much smaller with many more ways to connect to people. This enables us to work more remotely, on the move, more flexibly to enable juggling work and life to better effect, suited to the needs of the individual.
We need to embrace change and the possibilities now available to us, and use them to our advantage. By thinking of ways to do more with less, and without that meaning piling more pressure on already overworked staff, we can ensure that our most important assets are respected and treated fairly, and that the work produced will be the best it can be.