For over a year now employees have had the right to request flexible working for any reason whatsoever. Whilst employers can ultimately reject such requests on business grounds, many are starting to embrace new ways of working in the knowledge that this can lead to a happier and more productive workforce.
1. Consider a variety of working arrangements. Flexible working isn’t just about working less; there are a number of options open to employers, especially those that don’t rely heavily on a 9 to 5 working week. For example, employees could compress their normal working week into longer but fewer days, they could job share with someone else or they could work from home to avoid wasting time on a long commute. Some jobs may enable employees to dictate their own start and finish times allowing more flexibility during the working day.
2. Don’t build barriers. There are some real commercial benefits for a business which enables flexible working. Employers who genuinely recognise and promote a life outside work are more likely to obtain the loyalty and respect of their staff. Staff are less likely to leave for a competitor if they have a working pattern which fits around their childcare or their charity work; recognising that not all employers will allow them the same freedom. Employers are also more likely to attract high calibre candidates; individuals who value the culture of a workplace as well as (or even more than) the pay and benefits on offer.
3. Lead by example. The behaviours and decisions of senior employees within the business should be consistent with the drive to achieve work-life balance. Everybody has to work extra hours and be available outside core working hours at some point, but it’s important that this doesn’t become the norm every day of every week. Senior employees should think carefully about how they work and how they communicate with their team. Is it necessary to send an email to your team at 11.30pm and do you expect a response?
4. Set clear priorities. Employers should help employees set their work goals by putting clear priorities and objectives in place. Consider how you assess an employee’s performance; is it by the hours they work or what they deliver? Some businesses may be able to allow employees to have far more flexibility and choice in terms of the hours they work, the pattern of working and even how much holiday they are able to take, using a model of delivering on targets rather than time-recording.
5. Encourage annual leave. Increasingly, employees feel unable to completely switch off when they are on holiday. This is neither beneficial for the health or morale of your staff nor is it good for business if colleagues, clients and customers are relying on the sporadic contact of an employee on a beach in the Canary Islands. The key is to ensure that, so far as possible, holidays are taken in quieter periods, that employees don’t all take holiday at once, that clients and customers have more than one person that they can speak to and that an employee delegates their work so that it is covered properly whilst they are away. Often, employees who are self-conscious about their time off simply want to be seen responding to e-mails as a means of showing their commitment, without this being strictly necessary. Again, it is important that senior employees lead by example.
6. Spot the signs of stress. It is often not difficult for an employer to spot signs of stress amongst their staff. Increased working hours, irritable or unusual behaviour, poor performance and increased sickness absence may all suggest that the balance has tipped. Consider how you can support your employees before the situation escalates by pro-actively suggesting a change to their hours, working from home or a period of temporary leave. A small change at this stage may have a big impact and prevent a long period of sickness absence or a resignation.
7. Be virtual. Consider how you can use technology to become more efficient. If an employee has a long commute, could you equip them with a laptop or a blackberry rather than have them spend the extra hours in work? In these modern times, technology should enable many workers to be as useful away from their desk as they are in front of it.
8. Healthy body, healthy mind. Support your employees in leading a healthier lifestyle; a healthy employee has higher work attendance, greater productivity and engagement and is less likely to suffer from stress. Employers should think about ways of encouraging a healthier lifestyle, for example by offering a reduced cost gym membership, serving healthy options in the staff canteen, encouraging company-wide participation in sporting events and even providing office facilities if employees want to conduct sporting activities over their lunch hour.
9. The work environment. With the best will in the world, the nature of many jobs means that employees are often required to be office bound. However, in these circumstances it is even more important that employees feel they are able to relax in the working environment and small gestures can go a long way. For example, some employers will ensure that there are break-out areas for employees to relax at lunchtimes. Other employers will offer services to help employees with their daily chores such as a dry cleaning service.
10. Just ask. It might seem obvious but ask your employees how you can support them in achieving a better work life balance! Think about conducting a workplace survey to generate discussion and ideas.