How good management promotes a healthy work-life balance

09 October 2015 -

“WorkloadStress"

As we mark World Mental Health Day, Insights investigates how the pressure to be a 24/7 employee is putting a strain on Britain’s workers, and how good management can be the solution

Jermaine Haughton and Matt Scott


More than a quarter of young workers are feeling the pressure of having to make themselves available for work 24/7, according to The Way We Are Now 2015 report.

Published by charities Relate, Relationships Scotland and Marriage Care, the report found that 28% of under 35s believe the ideal employee is available to work 24 hours a day. In contrast, only 22% of the Baby Boomer generation (over 60s) agreed with this statement.

CMI head of external affairs Patrick Woodman said it is essential that managers allow their employees time to take a step back from their work commitments.

“Managers need to recognise being able to switch off is critical for team members to relax and recharge their batteries,” he said. “It’s really important to set clear expectations around things like email. In reality, most organisations don’t actually need that always-on, 24/7 responsiveness.

“One simple step for managers is to think about how and when you communicate – the email you’ve written on your commute home may be better sent in the morning, or it can send a signal that you expect an immediate response. Leading by example helps to set boundaries too, so make sure you make time to switch off yourself. Not only does that give guidance to your team, but it’s also important to look after your own mental health and wellbeing.”

Sir Cary Cooper, president of Relate and a CMI companion, said technology had played a major role in the rise of the 24/7 employee, but that removing this pressure could improve employee wellbeing and boost productivity.

“These statistics suggest that younger workers feel under pressure to live to work, rather than working to live,” he said. “One contributing factor here is the rapid advance in technology we’ve seen, blurring the line between work and home as our smart phones buzz throughout the evening and even on holiday. For some this offers flexibility of working patterns and locations, but for others it’s a constant worry.

“A workforce feeling under pressure is likely to be unhappier and less productive. Instilling the right culture and setting an example from the top will help managers and workers to be clear on what’s expected of each other, improving relationships and ultimately productivity. What business wouldn’t want that?”

Based on responses from over 6,000 people, the study also found that 22% of respondents said they work more hours than they want to, and that this has impacted negatively on their health and wellbeing.

Woodman said that a commitment to professional management would enable organisations to improve processes and reduce the amount of time wasted through inefficiencies in the way work is conducted, improving the performance and health of their staff.

“While there’s never really any substitute for hard work, managers shouldn’t be satisfied with excuses for inefficient processes that repeatedly waste precious resources, including people’s time,” he said. “Ultimately this is about good management. Very often the best first step is for managers to ask the employees involved how processes can be improved, as they’re the people who understand them best. Listening to their views and empowering them to change how work is done can help improve efficiency, increase employee engagement and is a great motivator in itself.

“As our own Quality of Working Life research has shown, factors like organisational change, management style and job autonomy are big factors in wellbeing. Our latest report will be out later this year and will provide some fresh insights into how managers are dealing with these challenges.”

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