Sixty per cent of women are happy with their work-life balance: Men are more likely to feel the strain of juggling job and family
No-one talks about Work-Life balance any more; Work-Life Merge seems to be accepted as the way it is, particularly in the USA. With the growth of smartphones and tablets workers are increasingly expected to keep in touch with work.
A recent survey by LondonOffice.com found that the majority (70%) of British business professionals check their work e-mails at least once a day when on holiday. 1 in 5 of them said they answered the e-mails and 60% of these carried on with the interchange if they thought it was important.
On the positive side a quarter of those surveyed said they didn’t check their e-mails when on holiday and 9% conveniently “forgot” to take their digital device with them.
For most people it takes some time to switch off from work and adjust to a different holiday tempo, and you may miss the structure work gives you.
Holiday can be stressful as well as enjoyable. There may be a large financial investment and high expectations. For freelance or contract workers there is a double cost as they are not earning during the holiday. People worry about travel problems, losing baggage, having accidents/illness.
Much as you may love your partner/family spending 24/7 with them can also be a strain. If your relationship is having problems you may find going to work is an escape for you and/or provides you with social support.
Organisations generally have flatter structures with fewer managers supervising more staff. Managers or team leader may not have deputies to look after things whilst they are away and may worry about what they will be going back to.
Managers may not have sufficient skills to delegate or manage their time effectively. They may not have the skills to develop/train staff to deal with minor problems. They may lack confidence themselves or feel they have to micro-manage staff. For some managers stress is caused by not knowing what’s going on back at work.
Workaholics are often rewarded by organisations and this leads to “presenteeism” where staff feel they have to work long hours for appearances’ sake. Working more than 50 hours a week is not productive (more mistakes, accidents, poorer quality work) and also has health risks. Those managers who say they get bored on holiday should bear this in mind. Laptops or smartphones on the beach don’t usually go down well with the family.
E-mail overload is an increasing source of stress. Companies can help by having policies about e-mail distribution but sometimes managers feel they have to check their e-mails if only to delete the spam or reduce the volume when they get back.
When I were a lad, people were saying that the challenge of future decades would be what to do with all our leisure time. Working weeks in the advanced economies had fallen and continued to fall. New technology, automation and robots, it was said, would mean that we could improve productivity yet still work less. Books like "The Leisure Shock…
unless you have a strong relationship.
When I wrote about working from home last December we were in the grip of snow and bad weather and it seemed a good idea to stay at home, off the roads, warm and safe.
This year there may be more people who have no choice after losing their jobs and either job-seeking or deciding they will have to work for themselves.
In either case it probably means having to set up an office at home.
New research from the Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York shows that people working from home find it difficult to switch off from their domestic life. You know the kind of thing: walking the dog, doing the shopping, preparing a meal.
All that can make domestic disputes worse. The “you’ve been at home all day and the dishes are still in the sink” scenario.
So although working from home seems the easier option people can feel more stressed than if they had commuted to work. The more work and family demands competed the more exhausted people felt.
Professor Golden, who led the study of 3,000 home-workers, said; “those with already high levels of work-family conflicts suffered higher exhaustion when they spent extensive time working from home”.
People with low levels of work-family conflict seemed to be better able to cope with working from home.
Working from home, or teleworking, is on the increase in the UK and the Telework Association believes that it’s a win-win situation for both employers and employees as they say it improves both productivity and work-life balance.
The productivity argument is probably true as tele-workers work harder so as not to be seen to abuse the system. However the work-life balance is harder to achieve.
It comes down to whether or not you can create boundaries between work and family, either physically eg working in the garden shed or equivalent, or psychologically being able to switch attention and focus on the work when needed.
Of course some people go to work to get away from problems at home and vice-versa.There will always be people, usually those who are more extraverted, who prefer to work in the presence of others for a variety of reasons including the social aspects.
Recent research suggests that whilst high levels of work engagement ie high levels of energy and involvement in work, are good for the organisation – this might be at the expense of other areas of an employee’s life.
Engaged employees create their own resources, perform better, have a positive impact on colleagues, and have happier clients.
But “over engagement” can have negative consequences creating workaholic behaviour in employees so that they regularly take work home. In a Dutch study work engagement was positively correlated with working overtime. This in turn disrupts work-life balance leading to poor health outcomes.
In some cases the inner drive to work hard, even when the person doesn’t enjoy working overtime, can lead to burnout. People forget to rest or maintain their personal relationships.
So there is definitely a dark side to employee engagement. Research shows that more engaged employees are more likely to experience work-family conflict.
High levels of engagement might also have negative consequences at work over time. Highly engaged employees who are enthusiastic about their jobs may take on additional tasks and it’s well-known that supervisors would rather assign tasks to keen employees.
The end result is that the engaged employee becomes over-loaded and begins to suffer ill-health and job performance declines along with the level of engagement.
Leaders are key influencers in employee engagement and because it is contagious engagement can spread across work teams. So leaders have a responsibility to be considerate and use a more transformational leadership style whilst providing social support and coaching.
Source: European Journal of Work and Organisational Psychology V 20 No 1 Feb 2011
When I read more on the research carried out by Stanley Siebert, a professor of labour economics at the University of Birmingham, it seemed to be measuring loyalty – but perhaps loyal employees are happier and more satisfied.
Anyway the survey of 20,00 employees in over 2,000 companies found that 28% of employees strongly agreed that they felt loyal compared with 22% in other organisations and 26% felt they had job security compared with 20% elsewhere.
This is apparently statistically significant. So whilst the figures are higher for family firms it’s still not a very encouraging picture overall is it? And doesn’t it also mean that 62% didn’t feel very loyal and 74% felt they didn’t have job security?
So the headlines could have read: “Fewer than 1/3 of employees in family firms feel loyal”. And why should this be?
According to the survey staff employed in family firms:
Despite this the report claims that staff in family owned business are proud to say who they work for, feel more valued, are closer to the decision-making, and share the values of the company.
These companies are reported to have inclusive management practices and encourage the expectation of long-term employment (but don’t guarantee it – and job tenure is actually shorter than elsewhere).
Research at Warwick University demonstrated that happy workers are more productive so if companies can get employees better aligned with the company’s goals they will probably get more discretionary effort from them ie they will go the extra mile.
But note these are not your typical SMEs. The report was commissioned by the Unquoted Companies Group which includes companies such as Clarks shoes and JCB. Doubtless these are reputable companies but the group has lobbied parliament in the past opposing the growth of EU employment protection legislation and the working time directive.
That’s the place to work if you want to achieve work-life-balance (WLB) according to the OECD which has recently included it as a factor in its Better Life Initiative.
The OECD has used 3 indicators: the amount of time devoted to personal activities, the employment rate of women with children age 6 to 14, and the number of employees working over 50 hours a week. FYI research shows that 50 hours seems to be the point when work impacts on your health.
People working in Northern European countries seem to manage their work hours the best with extremely few (0.001%) regularly working over 50 hours.
Denmark is best for working mothers with 78% returning to the workforce when their children reach school age (Turkey is the worst on this indicator with only 24%).
Belgians, those monastic beer and chocolate lovers, have more time off per day on average – 16.61 hours – than anyone else.
The top 10 countries with the best work-life balance are:
Denmark has come top of the list in other surveys for having more people satisfied with life and Finland was voted the best country to live in although Australia came top in the OECD survey for where to live for a better quality of life overall.
You’ll notice the UK is not on this list and neither is the USA. The UK came 17th and the USA 23rd. Worst for WLB were Turkey, Mexico , and Japan (which interestingly has a word for “death by overworking”).
As if it’s not enough that the world of work is increasingly polarised by differences in earnings between the board room and the shop floor, UK managers are now being accused of being lazy and lacking a work ethic.
Ratan Tata, super-rich boss of the Tata Group which owns Corus and Jaguar Land Rover, says that “in my experience nobody is prepared to go the extra mile, nobody”.
He went on to say that people weren’t happy about being in meetings that went on until 1800 when they had trains to catch and that on Fridays everybody cleared off at 1530. “In India if you are in a crisis you work until midnight. At JLR the worker is willing to do that but the management is not”. According to Tata these things don’t happen in China or Indonesia, Thailand or Singapore.
He then acknowledged that the new management team is different and does call meetings at 1700 (so why make the comments in the first place at a time when Corus is cutting 1,500 jobs in the North-East and a further 1,200 jobs are at risk?). UK managers may no longer claim to be working the longest hours, but it’s not uncommon for UK managers to be working at least 60 hours a week with all the health risks that entails. Most managers I know would love a better work-life balance.
Tata’s comments have been roundly criticised by the TUC and the British Chamber of Commerce whose director-general said “this is not a world I recognise… business owners and managers have been working all hours to get the job done. Nine-to-five is not part of the British culture”. Perhaps what is more worrying is that Tata is a member of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Group, co-chairman of the UK-India CEO forum, and close to David Cameron.
The GMB National Secretary suggested that “Mr Tata should make sure he employs the proper people to make managers come up to the standards of the workers” and there were numerous letters to the press from hard pressed managers working long hours and then taking work home, consultants arguing for better productivity, and someone from India pointing out that managers in India have maids to look after their children and drivers to get them home, complaining about his comments. And perhaps he is forgetting that leadership starts at the top?
But he’s not the only boss criticising the workers lately. Andrew Rodda, Operations Director at the UK’s largest clotted cream manufacturer where they pay just above the minimum wage, was one of the delegates at the Institute of Directors’ annual convention who was critical of the TUC’s call for pay rises to stimulate the economy. He told the Observer that he thought people wasted too much of their hard-earned salaries – on things like holidays. Rodda, who has boasted in the past of his three holidays a year, thought that rather than pay workers more “there’s more to be gained from teaching employees how to manage their money more effectively than giving them more money to mismanage”.
Cornwall is one of the least affluent areas in England with average full-time earnings of £9.83 an hour compared with the national average of £12.63. Needless to say his comments provoked ire from many quarters not least the TUC which described the comments as a throwback to Victorian days.
If Rodda’s really want to control what workers spend their money on perhaps they should reintroduce paying their workers in tokens as in days of old in the Cornish tin mines. In many industries such tokens could only be redeemed at company shops where prices were often higher than elsewhere. (The practice was outlawed by the Truck Acts in the 19C).
And if employers really want to turn the clock back and cut the number of holidays employees are entitled to they could adopt the idea of holiday dismemberment. Bosses in Shanghai told workers that they had to work as usual on a Chinese national holiday on May 2. The managers revealed a scheme for compensating the workers which they called holiday dismemberment. Instead of receiving another day off in lieu the workers would receive a series of mini-holidays spread over the year.
The 8 hour shift, of 480 minutes, would be spread over the 252 days of the year “allowing staff to enjoy two minutes of holiday every day”. Staff were understandably unimpressed. The idea apparently came from a Japanese cosmetics company Shiseido. and it is not clear whether the idea is actually illegal. So remember when Tata says that we should be more like companies in the Far East what you might be faced with.
We are suffering a recession, due in part to reckless bankers who have been unaffected, and everyone is either working harder or making do on less income – if they still have a job. To suggest we revert to these ideas and working practices is suicidal. Workers have long memories and there will come a time when loyalty or lack of it will be repaid. What we need now is effective leadership and strong employee engagement, not 3rd world labour practices.
Updated 26 May 2011: Tata has just announced that profits have tripled. JLR made over £1billion pre-tax profit last year and saw revenue rise by over 50%.
For years the Brits have been claiming that they work the longest hours in Europe but in fact only Belgium and France work fewer hours than us in the EU. Belgium’s working day averages 7 hours compared to Mexico’s 10 hours a day (these figures include both paid and unpaid work including studying).
And despite working the longest hours the Mexicans rank as the 3rd happiest nation (Iceland was the happiest and Ireland was the second most charitable). These figures are part of the OECD publication “Society at a glance” which gives an overview of social trends.
According to a report in the CIPD’s People Management magazine (but also reported world-wide) two team leaders in the City Council’s benefits department got fed up listening to staff wasting time talking about things like the weather, holidays and babies.
So they sent out an e-mail accusing staff of treating work like a holiday camp and suggested that if they wanted to talk about non-work stuff they should clock out and do it in non-work time. According to the Cumberland News they said; “In order to ensure maximum output is produced, the working ethos within the office will need to change. Staff should be aware of the reason why they are here, which is to work and not to treat the office as a day-to-day holiday camp. It is not a requirement for you not to talk to your fellow colleagues but you should ensure that non-work conversations are kept to a minimum.”
They continued: “Staff should log into systems first thing and not ‘catch up on the gossip’. Smokers are required to clock out when they want a cigarette. Surely it is not unreasonable to expect you to clock out if you wish to have a 10-minute conversation with a colleague about the weather?” The email ends: “The way we have worked previously cannot be sustained in the current economic climate and we must all change our ways.”
The email listed examples such as conversations about holidays, babies or pets, looking at photographs and social networking, sport or fashion websites, and postings on chat, for-sale or wanted websites.
Perhaps predictably Ged Caig, regional organiser for the GMB, said: “I’ve been doing this job for 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s unbelievable. Morale is rock-bottom already because of the threat of redundancy. For managers to issue this is disgraceful. The workforce feel threatened enough. The city council prides itself on being a good employer but this isn’t the action of a good employer. If any staff want to make representations, I will be pleased to take it up on their behalf.” Is he really going to represent a member of staff who admits to internet surfing and blog posting on the Council’s time?
Dr Jason Gooding, the council’s deputy chief executive, said:“On this occasion the approach to managing staff has fallen a little short of the high standards the council has rightly come to expect of its team leaders and managers. Discussions on performance and capability should generally be conducted face to face with the relevant members of staff – not through general email communication. We will be working with managers and staff to ensure positive lessons are learned following this experience. This is an isolated incident and does not reflect the management style we are working hard to develop.”
He didn’t actually say what that style was (and sometimes I wonder about the public sector) and whilst I agree that individual poor performance should be dealt with face-to-face where there is a pervasive culture of skiving it seems appropriate to send out a general warning, a “shot across the bows”. And does the Council have a policy about personal internet use or are they happy for their employees to conduct their private business in works’ time? I don’t think there are many private sector managers who would disagree with the sentiments expressed in the e-mail and the council tax payers are probably unhappy as well. David and Neil, you might even get nominated for “managers of the month!”
If you have ever worked in an office where people seem to spend more time chatting or surfing than actually doing any work then you would understand the team leaders’ frustration. (And is it any wonder managers turn to drink?) I am not against staff having breaks and socialising, as it’s an important part of being at work and helps maintain work-life balance, but where do you draw the line?
The public sector is often criticised for low levels of productivity and high levels of sickness absence and the Carlisle City Council was criticised for its high levels of sickness absence in its 2009 organisational assessment and met only minimum requirements in the way it managed resources (a score of 2 out of 4). It was also criticised in the local press for re-employing a senior manager only weeks after making him redundant.