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The search for the ever-elusive work-life balance 

Brett Moffatt

Findings released by ukactive and Sodexo revealed that the average lunch break for office workers in the UK is now just 22 minutes long. Combined with the findings of the Corporate Culture Study – which show that over a third of employees are regularly working overtime, can only lead one to ask, how has the UK transformed into a country plagued by a workaholic culture? Contributor Brett Moffatt is Managing Director (EMEA) – Talent Intelligence.

Regionally, the UK, along with Australia, contains the largest percentage of employees who feel they have too much work to complete during the 9-5 working day; just one reason behind the new 22-minute lunch ‘hour’.

Long hours contribute nothing to productivity. The increasing number of hours employees face comes despite three-quarters of full-time employees saying they do in fact have enough time to complete their main responsibilities during the workday; the Workforce Institute finds that most of the extra hours spent at work are instead spent on tasks that don’t directly relate to employees’ jobs. Do workers suspect that they will be considered to be work-shy if they switch off for their full lunch break or if they don’t stay beyond their work hours?

It seems that this way of thinking permeates modern-work place culture. The feeling of being overworked or needing to work intensely has become dominant among employees. In fact, YouGov found that last year, one in five 25-34-year-olds in the UK were unhappy with their work-life balance and 46 per cent of workers feel that their jobs required them to work intensely.

This not only hinders employee satisfaction and productivity but can affect their physical health too. Similarly, a recent UCL study found 46 per cent of workers expressed strong feelings about their job requiring them to work intensely, compared to just under a third of workers in 1992.

It is easy to jump to the conclusion that employers must be at the root of the problem. But perhaps this is not an employer-fueled culture. The findings of a recent Tork study would suggest that most employers are aware that organisations that foster employees’ work-life balance perform better and boast better long-term productivity results.

Despite the perception that employers encourage long working hours, the study found that in North America, 88 per cent of bosses wanted their employees to take their full lunch break.

The push to clock in long hours and avoid lunch breaks isn’t solely driven by employers. Of the 53 per cent of workers worldwide who say they feel a need to be working more than 40 hours a week to further their career, 60 per cent say the pressure exerted on them to work over time comes from none other than themselves.

Similarly, we must not look past the demands clients place on suppliers. They can often be at the heart of a long hours work culture. But employers must take responsibility for this emerging outlook on ambition to avoid employees feeling their only chance of career progression is committing themselves to their desk far beyond the 8-hour working day.

A positive work environment can transform the dynamic of a workplace. It has been shown that organisations who take preventative measures to eliminate pressure to stay late amongst their employees, are able to produce better work and boast from better long-term productivity results.

Companies that provide non-work and time-off benefits for their employees are undoubtedly benefitting in attracting talent, as employees are more frequently looking at work-life balance as a main factor when choosing a job. A CEB global labour market survey found that 53.7 per cent of people surveyed ranked work life balance as the most important factor in their job selection.

In order to eliminate a toxic culture, businesses may need to adopt policies that stipulate which situations require an employee to stay late to meet a deadline, and which scenarios require an employee to check in during time off, and which would not, so employees don’t assume that’s expected of them.

Achieving this culture is critical to getting the best out of your team and becoming a more productive workplace. Making it normal to ‘switch off’ during time off and on evenings is a conscious business decision which must be formalised by the hierarchies in place to ensure such decisions and actions are followed through.

This could lead to employees allowing themselves to shut off from their work emails during lunch breaks and upon arrival home every evening, drastically shortening their working hours. Switching off has to become the rule, or the work environment will encroach too far.

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