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Get the balance right: How to encourage staff to switch off from work

The days of the 9 to 5 are long gone. With shift work, seven day rotas and the relentless march of technology, it’s harder than ever for people to separate work from home life.

The days of the 9 to 5 are long gone. With shift work, seven day rotas and the relentless march of technology, it’s harder than ever for people to separate work from home life.

Research by Taylors of Harrogate recently identified 8 ‘til 8 as being the new ‘norm’ for working Brits, with the majority of employees checking emails on their phones, tablets and laptops before they leave in the morning and long after they return home.

However, just because it’s happening, it doesn’t make it right.

Technology is supposed to make lives easier, not drag us under, by squeezing the work/life balance out of everyday existence. Plus – sentiment aside – when it comes to your business’ bottom line, it’s tired, stressed-out workers that are the ones who make costly mistakes.

Business owners, HR managers and line managers have a duty of care to promote a balance between office and home, and encourage staff to take a healthy approach to work.

Sounds unrealistic, when you’ve purposely employed a conscientious team? Actually, it’s easier than you might think to promote the idea of down time among your staff. 

Have a break

The first, and simplest, action is to insist on breaks. Repeat, until it becomes second nature for people to get away from their desks at regular intervals. Encourage them to go outside and have a walk, or to relax in a breakout area. 

You know the working rhythms of your office or department so you will be best placed to implement a break structure that works best for your team. I know many call centres that prefer, due to the nature of answering customer enquiries, to spread breaks throughout the day. For instance, 15 minutes in the morning, half an hour at lunch, then another 15 minutes in the afternoon. Other departments might work better with just one, longer, break in the middle of the day.

Spot warning signs

As a manager, use your discretion to extend break time if you’re aware that someone is struggling. It’s all about showing that you value people as individuals and care about them in more ways than just how they perform at work. 

From shop floor and front line staff all the way up to executives, people are liable to put themselves under extra pressure at work. Look for the warning signs of a stressed out worker exhibiting tell-tell signs like sloppy mistakes or a string of absences.

If someone is close to cracking, take swift steps. Examine their workload and see what can be removed or deferred. Listen, and try to understand what’s driven them to this point. It might be something at work or at home, but the moment they open up, it will feel like a weight has been removed from their shoulders and you can start to find a solution together.

Work together, play together

Tight knit teams who like to go to the pub together after work are likely to be ones who are keen to do other out-of-office activities, such as football, bowling or quizzes.

This can have a long-lasting, positive impact on work/life balance. People’s lives are so busy, however, that securing volunteers might be hard work. However bigger companies, those with more than 100 employees, should be able to make a sports team work. If your numbers are smaller, though, be realistic and maybe organise one-off events.

If your company organises nights out or events with the aim of improving work/life balance, don’t force everyone to take part. Some people will never go, no matter how many times you ask, while others will be negative about any gesture made by their employer. It’s sad but take it with a pinch of salt.

It’s worth considering a staff family day, rather than a night out, if you have a workforce with lots of families. By taking into consideration the restrictions on their free time, while giving them a chance to bond with their colleagues, will forge a positive atmosphere that is more likely to transfer back to the office.

Give and take

Allowing job shares, part time roles and flexible working to those with young children is a great step towards work/life balance.

Offering discretion when it comes to family-related requests is also critical to overall happiness. If a staff member asks to leave early to collect their child from school or to start late to attend a school event, they should have their requests considered on merit.

As a manager, you need to consider how often these requests are made, what their job role is and what else is going on in the business at the time. You may grant the request or ask them to make the time up.

Be aware, though, that granting a request once sets a precedent and you must be willing to consider other, similar demands from staff.

Melanie Astbury, HR manager – officekitten.co.uk

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12 June 2024

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