Are we Losing the Battle for Work/Life Balance?

A report released by the Australia Institute shows that a large number of Australian workers will not be going home on time today and many of these people will not be getting paid for the extra hours they work.

The report shows that 42% of the 1000 people surveyed think that the balance between work and life had worsened for them over the past 5 years. The main reasons for this were expectations for them to work longer hours and job insecurity. Where people had improved the balance between work and life the main strategy (51%) was to change jobs, closely followed by taking steps to reduce working hours.

This has implications for employers and employees.  Many organisations are searching for ways to improve productivity and are spending money on programs to improve employee “wellbeing” or on “incentive programs” to improve productivity. Work/Life balance is consistently identified as an important component of what leads to people being “happy” in their work. Measures to address the problem do not need to be complicated or expensive but they do need to be based on a good understanding of why the problem exists in each organisation and in each team.

If you employ or manage people who always seem to be staying late then have a conversation with them about what is contributing to this happening. I have heard many explanations in the training and coaching sessions I run including:

  1. It is too noisy to concentrate when everyone is in the office so I stay late to get uninterrupted time to do more work that requires more thinking and planning.
  2. During the day I am interrupted constantly by phone calls or people coming to my desk so the only time I can get my “work” done is after hours.
  3. We are expected to answer any ringing phone and “deal” with the enquiry straight away, even if it takes hours because I am unfamiliar with that area or the customer history. I can never get my own work done during work time.
  4. There is just too much to do and if I get behind I will never catch up.
  5. I stay late because it is expected. The boss stays late and I have heard them talk negatively about people who are “not committed to the job” because they go home on time or take lunch breaks. I believe it will affect my career prospects if I go home on time.
  6. I just really want to do a good job and not keep the customer waiting but that means I have to stay late to finish their request.
  7. My boss doesn’t seem to care if I never get to go home. They just walk up to me 30min before it is time to go home and dump all this “urgent” work on my desk and then email me at 10pm to check I will have it all finished before the meeting in the morning. They even email me on weekends. It is just expected!

Many organisations “say” they have family friendly policies and promote work/life balance but often the day to day experience of the people working in these organisations does not match what was “advertised”. Over time this can lead to increased negativity and reduced productivity. If these problems cannot be resolved by the organisation then many of your best people will solve the problem by leaving.

So ……if you employ or manage people you need do some simple things like:

  1. Make sure you set a good example by going home on time yourself.
  2. Do not send emails to your team after hours and respect their days off.
  3. Don’t leave it till late in the day to delegate urgent work. Make sure you are organised yourself so this does not happen.
  4. Make sure you have regular conversations with your team to make sure they have sufficient “quiet” time to do their work during their normal work hours. This may mean organising time away from their desk for work requiring more concentration or privacy, or maybe even some “work from home” time when they have important projects.
  5. Check your systems support people to go home on time (e.g., don’t have early or late meetings that you know will take people outside “normal” work hours).
  6. Check the workload for your team is realistic allowing for the “real world” situation of a noisy workplace and frequent interruptions.

Remember, wherever you are in the organisation you need to do your bit to make your workplace a “healthy” place to work. Make sure you are not adding to the problem by making negative comments about people who go home on time. See what you could change about your own work habits and approach your supervisor about some of the issues you are having and some possible suggestions (see above). I had a conversation recently with a new manager in a bank who said she stayed late and worked through lunch every day because that is what her team did. She was afraid they would think she was lazy if she took breaks and went home on time!!

Set up a time for discussion among your team about how to ensure everyone can “go home on time” more often.

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