HR & Management

Get the work/life integration right in your office and you'll get more productive employees

5 min read

06 February 2019

Employees are eager to impress their bosses by taking off as little time as possible. But this 'race to the bottom' only produces tired and unproductive staff in the long-term, says Matt Frost from Gallagher Communication.

In a short space of time, the trend for unlimited time off from work has become the perceived pinnacle of working practice, and then almost immediately the subject of scorn from its critics.

Anybody who has been issued with a work mobile knows that the notion of work/life balance is laughable. Instead, it is employers and employees who acknowledge and embrace a true and seamless work/life integration that will be tomorrow’s winners.

Sick and over-worked employees? It doesn’t have to be this way:

It’s easy to see how the high proportion of long-term illness and stress-related absenteeism could be reduced if this strong connection between trust, collaboration and HR policies that support and empower employees to rest and recharge when they need to is established.

A mature response to and adoption of flexible working is what will make people happier, healthier and more productive in the future. But where to begin?

1. Establish Trust

Trust is integral to true flexible working to be fully realised.

Employees need to feel trusted and empowered to make decisions that are right for them, their work and their team, while their employers need to be able to have grown-up conversations with them when things aren’t working.

“People need to be treated like adults and should be expected to act like adults too.”

In all, the potential abuse of a flexible policy is outweighed by the potential gains in productivity, motivation and brand loyalty that can come about as a result of the integration of flexible policies in a workplace.

2. Get the culture right

While trust and accountability are key, it is the culture of the company which will drive change in the long-term.

In tandem, adoption of this approach can help to foster a culture of inclusivity – it evidences trust and respect for employees, and also creates the cornerstone of a more pragmatic approach to people management.

However, all this relies, though, on leaders and managers who are supportive of creating this sort of environment – and they will only be able to do this if they are fully equipped to manage sensitive discussions and situations.

Can this work in an SME?

All this might seem more realistic for large corporates where the nature of the work is more proactive, but can a small firm really hope to make this work in the same way?

And is this a case of being fine where employees are chasing sales targets, but not so feasible in a customer service centre where contact is incoming and workflows from the customer?

Yes, it can!

The SME market enjoys an in-built advantage in this respect – but what is it?

They have an inherent ability to create a more inclusive and employee-focused work environment with fewer layers of bureaucracy, something which larger businesses – despite their multiple other advantages – need to bear in mind.

Where do we go from here?

It’s no secret that technology and generational needs are evolving how we work at a rapid rate, with the law struggling to keep up.

Therefore, we need to push the Government to back pilots in the public sector, or perhaps offer tax incentives to private companies who offer a scheme – providing the necessary platform for management on the ground to adopt these practices.

“HR Directors and other business leaders are beginning to see a decline in benefits as a competitive advantage, leaving more room to concentrate on the – increasingly important – employee experience.”

Momentum must come from employees

Employees company-wide should be working together to create a compelling value proposition to improve the environment, culture and use of technology in the workplace. A programme guaranteeing “unlimited time-off” would play into this well.

Looking ahead

At the end of March 2019, we have a watershed moment and a chance to redefine workplace governance and employee protection on our own terms.

– Innovation in the sphere of employee experience is the kind of thing which could provide fuel for making this dream a reality.