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Educating Your Staff On Work/Life Balance


By Melanie Astbury, HR Manager, officekitten.co.uk

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New research has revealed the average British worker is now ‘on the job’ for 12 hours a day.

The proliferation of technology in everyday life means the days of 9-5 are gone forever, with most of us in work mode from 8-8 instead.

Your workplace is most likely full of people who check work emails on their phones, tablets and laptops before arriving in the office and who are still checking and replying long after they’ve gone home for the night.

Technology has played a massive part in squeezing the work/life balance. From managers to shop floor staff, people are finding it harder to switch off.

However, exhausted employees make more mistakes. Work at a healthy pace and you will stay healthier for longer.

It’s the duty of HR managers, line managers and business owners to remind staff of this and encourage sufficient down time in everyone’s lives.

Often, people put themselves under added pressure in the workplace. Look out for warning signs, like absences or inaccurate work, as tell-tale examples that someone is stressed out to an unhealthy level.

To remedy this, look at workloads. Try to understand the situation both at work and at home for the individual concerned. Listen and encourage them to open up to you. The moment you, as their manager, says ‘don’t worry about it’ it will be a weight off their mind.

Managers can insist on break time. Tell staff to get away from their desks, take a walk, get outside, relax in a breakout area. This shows you are treating people as individuals and have a concern for them beyond professional performance.

Depending on department requirements, it might work to have 15 minutes break in the morning, half an hour at lunch and a further 15 minutes in the afternoon. This works well with the rhythms of many call centres, for instance. Other departments, such as accounts or admin, might prefer a full hour at lunch as their only break.

Managers should definitely use their discretion to extend breaks if someone is having a bad day.

Sports and social clubs or teams are a good idea to enhance the work/life balance. People’s lives are so busy these days that committing to this may be a struggle for many, however.

Bigger companies of more than 100 employees can realistically expect to be able to get enough volunteers to come forward to make a sports team viable. Don’t expect too much if your numbers are smaller, ie a small business, no matter how competitive your team members are!

The exceptions to this are if you have a very social office or department. The kind of team who likes to go to the pub together regularly after work, for instance. With a bonded team unit like this, you might find that if someone suggests a five-a-side football night or regular bowling night, there will be lots of hands in the air.

For departments where there are lots of workers with families, rather than considering a staff night out, why not organise a staff family day? That way you make it inclusive for all. People get to mix and bond with their families present and the good atmosphere that is forged then should hopefully transfer back to the workplace on Monday morning.

If the business organises a night out with the purpose of improving work/life balance, be prepared that there will be some people who will not go and will never go. In fact, anything that is suggested, no matter how honest and well meaning, will get negative reaction in some quarters. That’s just human nature, so don’t force it.

There will be periods when the business goes through a busy time and more demands are made on employees, like compulsory overtime. To keep a balance in periods like this is where managers have a duty of care. Staff need to be reminded that this is temporary and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

For those with young families, job sharing and part time roles should be offered where possible and if it suits the business.

Employees who make family requests – such as needing to leave early occasionally to pick up their children from school or needing to come in late to attend a school event – should have their requests considered on merit, dependent on their job role and what is going on in the business at the time.

I know some managers who will grant such requests in the blink of an eye. Whereas others will say yes, if the time is then made up. It all depends on how often the request is made and how big the department the employee works in is. Bear in mind though, that if you grant one request like this, everyone will consider it fair game for them to request too.



Melanie Astbury is the HR Manager of officekitten.co.uk, supplier of office stationery and office supplies.