Productivity through flexibility: not just for National Work-Life Week

work life balanceWe’ve now have National Work-Life Week in October each year – a time when both employers and employees are encouraged to consider both their well-being in the workplace and their work-life balance as a whole. For women in particular, a quality work-life balance can be difficult to achieve. We have a tendency to put everyone and everything before our own wellbeing, forgetting that sometimes we must put ourselves first to ensure we can be strong to support our partners, our children, and our businesses.

A work-life balance is something we should be working towards all year round, but National Work-Life Week is a great way to highlight the benefits, not just personally, but for organisations as well.

Organised by Working Families, as part of National Work-Life Week, theWednesday is  ‘Go Home On Time Day’. Research has shown that many parents work far more than their contracted hours, and more than 10% of UK employees work over 50 hours a week.

So what can we, as businesswomen, do to promote a healthier way of balancing work and life? The national week can give a focus if you are trying to change things in your workplace. Working Families has provided a toolkit for employers to help business owners see how a happier, more balanced workforce can actually work in their favour. Large employers, such as Lloyds and Centrica, have taken part in the campaign.

Flexible Working

Flexible working is a highly valued commodity in today’s workforce, and in most cases is only available to senior, higher-paid members of staff. In some cases, I think businesses – particularly small companies – are worried about the impact on service levels if they offer flexible working, and there are areas of work where there are more challenges. I know I had that worry with my own business when we first introduced working-from-home and flexible working options.

The most important factor to come from this week, in my opinion, should be encouraging employers to promote that they are – as the toolkit states – Happy to Talk Flexible Working. Employees should be encouraged to ask for flexible working if it will help their work-life balance. Sure, not all tasks can be made flexible, but many can and employees shouldn’t be afraid to at least ask and open discussions. Sometimes, employees can come up with workable options the employer hadn’t even thought of.

Use Digital Devices Appropriately

Smartphones, tablets and laptops make our lives easier, or at least to some extent. What they can also do is encourage an ‘always working’ environment. It’s become all too easy to check your email last thing at night before you go to bed, over breakfast, or even on holiday. All this contributes to less downtime and genuine relaxation.

I’ve heard many a business owner – and employee – say they feel better knowing that they’ve checked in, even on their day off, but what is this doing to our health? What does this say to our families and children?

Companies should encourage employees to use their digital devices to work more flexibly, not to work longer. It’s a great benefit to have the freedom to choose when and where to work. That’s the way these devices should help. Mindfulness should be encouraged to ensure we are fully paying attention to the matter in hand, whether that’s work, or family time.

Promote Family-Friendly Policies

When you start a business, a lot of time goes into the ‘staff handbook’. This lays out company policy on items such as parental leave policies, or company benefits such as discounted or free massage or gym memberships. When you start a new job, you should be given a copy of the handbook as part of an induction process and the handbook should be made available to you at any point. It’s easy to forget these matters however, so people lose sight of what they’re entitled to.

As part of National Work-Life Week, companies are encouraged to promote their work-life policies and offerings so as to remind people about what’s available.

In general, I think women are more likely, as employees and business owners, to request and promote work-life practices but, particularly in larger companies, can be worried about the impact on their careers. We shouldn’t be afraid to open discussions about what can, after all, benefit us all.

Image: Work-life balance via Shutterstock

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