Do shorter working hours mean a better work-life balance? Not always
We’re all seeking a perfect work-life balance, allowing us to earn a good wage while fitting in enough time for family, friends and fun.
But what allows us to attain it? And how do we measure whether we’ve done so?
MoneyTranfers.com – a company providing money transfer comparison – has looked into recent surveys suggesting clocking up long hours doesn’t necessarily mean people feel they have a poor work-life balance; just as a shorter working day doesn’t guarantee a better one.
According to data from business support company NordVPN Teams, the average length of time an employee working from home in the UK spends logged onto their computer has increased by more than two hours a day during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Guardian has also reported on stats from remote team-building firm Wildgoose that showed 44% of UK employees felt they were expected to do more work over the last year. People also took shorter work breaks and felt they had to be “always on”. Both surveys related to people who’d switched to primarily home working.
Yet a survey from the UK’s Office for National Statistics of new homeworkers during the pandemic found that a better work-life balance was actually the biggest positive of the shift. People also reported a greater sense of wellbeing as a result of working from home. What they found more challenging was collaborating with their colleagues; younger workers also found there were more distractions at home.
Why is this?
Career Coach Alice Stapleton says it’s because what people are really talking about in this case is work-life integration and flexibility.
“When working at home, time is saved by not commuting. Being at home means you can quickly do chores in-between work, pop out to a fitness class at lunch, pick your kids up from school and carry on working if need be”, Stapleton told MoneyTransfers.com.
“It’s the flexibility and holistic, integrated approach to our whole lives that working from home enables us to have.”
She echoes the idea that it’s not necessarily the number of hours someone is working in a day that impacts their perception of work-life balance, but how much time they carve out to commit to other activities.
“When one of my clients says ‘I don’t have time’, what they’re really talking about is what their priorities are. We all have the ability to fit ‘life’ commitments around our work, but our priorities, mindset, and people-pleasing get in the way. It’s very easy to let work take priority – there will always be something that needs doing, and we think everything is urgent these days,” Stapleton says.
She identifies cancelling plans to see friends, cancelling classes they’ve paid for, not returning phone calls or messages from friends and family, and working at the weekend when they hadn’t planned to as signs someone’s work-life balance has slipped.
How can you find a better work-life balance?
“Set clear working hours and stick to them – communicate them with the rest of your team so that they know when they can’t get hold of you,” says Rebecca Siciliano, Managing Director at Tiger Recruitment, a London-based boutique recruitment agency with a global client base.
“A day should begin with clear objectives and a timetable of what you’ll do when, interspersed with time away from your screen,” Siciliano adds.
“It should end with shutting down your laptop and packing up all your work things to signal to your brain that the working day is over.”
Siciliano says employers who want to create a better work-life balance for their staff should focus on outcomes and outputs, not when or how many hours people work.
Bosses should rarely be contacting employees out of office hours and never when they’re on annual leave.
“The most effective way to encourage a healthy work-life balance in your team is to model healthy behaviour,” she says.
“Setting your own reasonable boundaries will give your team permission to follow suit.”