TRYING TO BALANCE WORK AND LIFE HAS ALWAYS BEEN LIKE A GAME OF JENGA. TO CONFUSE MATTERS, WHAT DEFINES WORK-LIFE BALANCE HAS CHANGED, WITH WORK AND LIFE MELDING AND PEOPLE EXPECTED TO BE ON-DEMAND AT ALL TIMES. CLEARLY, THIS IS NOT A CHARTER FOR IMPROVED MENTAL WELLNESS. IN THE TURMOIL, PEOPLE ARE INCREASINGLY LOOKING FOR STABILITY IN THIS UNPREDICTABLE FINANCIAL CLIMATE. BUT ABOVE ALL, WHAT PEOPLE EXPECT IS A FOCUS ON DEVELOPMENT AND FUTURE VISION, SO AT THE FULCRUM OF THE EVP MUST BE GOOD ACCESS AND OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN NEW SKILLS AND ADAPT TO THE CHANGING WORLD.
For many now, there is no black and white division between work and home. What were two separate spaces have become merged. But the core rationale of EAPs has always been to separate work and personal life, so what is now the primary function in this much changed working landscape?
The Employee Value Proposition could be so simple. Along with a great place to work and rewards package, people wanted the chance of some flexibility, to be at home when they are needed for children, caring responsibilities, to cut down on commuting and up until recently, flexiworking was a perk for the few not the many. The pandemic was a lesson in how flexible working could work for the majority of employees and that productivity could be maintained or increased. Employees felt empowered and organisations could reduce both costs and environmental footprint. The push for a four-day working week is just one example and June 2022 saw the start of the world’s biggest trial of four-day working on full pay, involving 70 UK businesses for a six-month period until the end of the year.
The problem is that work/home flexibility hasn’t led to a golden age of wellbeing and research carried out for this year’s Stress Awareness Month suggested that 62 percent of British employees had experienced burnout – a state of physical and emotional exhaustion – in the past year and a quarter believed that they had been burnt out consistently over that period. ONS statistics show that total weekly hours worked increased by 14.8 million hours in January-to-March 2022, compared to the previous quarter. The average number of hours worked by full-time employees is up to 36.6 hours, compared with 34.2 in 2021. Home-working has tended to encourage longer hours working and overworking. Flexi-working means work itself has become a constant presence at home, with work schedules, targets and pressures more concentrated. So, before we embrace the idea of the four-day week too quickly, it’s important to remember that the basis of the trial is that participants sign-up to delivering 100 percent of their usual productivity and the businesses involved all hope productivity will increase. Clearly, an EVP that works for this new context, cannot afford to fudge the issue. It needs to be built around a recognition that ‘flexible’ comes with its own challenges for staff and how work impacts on their lives. In turn, HR strategies linked to the EVP need to involve some responsibility for this change and resultant incursion into home life.
Employee Assistance Programmes need to be front and centre of the HR offering, an everyday support service that is set up to be holistic, that looks at the bigger picture of people’s lives and how positive balances can be found. Notably, data from EAP usage in 2021 highlighted a steep rise, with up to 11.4 percent of employees calling on EAP services compared with a previous average of 10.4 percent. Trends suggest higher EAP usage is here to stay, particularly given the increased awareness and openness around issues of mental wellbeing, with a notable increase in the number of employees accessing counselling and psychological therapy offerings. Analysis points to postpandemic anxiety, along with low mood and depression as the main reasons for people accessing support. These are not problems that go away with more time at home. Behind these figures are the human stories of struggles with cost of living, relationship tensions and caring pressures to name but a few; all acting together to spill over into other areas of people’s lives. That is why well-thought out EAP strategies are so critical to timely and appropriate employee support.
FOR FURTHER INFO WWW.EAPA.ORG.UK