Technology has unshackled work from the traditional 9-5. Email and the cloud allow and encourage us to work from anywhere, at any time. But the expectation to “always be on” reduces the quality of personal time, adding to stress and burnout as workers aren’t able to fully recover from the day.
Research shows there are great benefits to work-life balance, both for individuals and companies. More time to spend with friends and family, for leisure activities and personal care, can reduce stress and improve mental health according to the OECD.
Australia ranks a dismal 30th in the OECD for work-life balance, behind the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom. Australian full-time workers average just 14.4 hours of personal time a day, compared to an OECD average of 15 hours. The numbers barely improve for those who work less, and is roughly the same for both genders.
With untreated mental health conditions costing Australian employers an estimated $10.9 billion every year, there are a number of approaches businesses can take to support their employees in adapting to the changing nature of work.
1) Flexible working hours
Not all jobs require a 9-5 presence, and business hours definitely don’t suit everybody. Flexibility is increasingly an option for occupations that can make do without face-to-face or real-time communication. Group messaging, forums and cloud-based project management has made this a possibility for more occupations.
Many of those with children would love to take them to school in the morning and pick them up in the evenings. And the ability to shift around their workday would allow those that work best at certain times, like to sleep in, or who engage in certain pass-times, to plan the bulk of their day accordingly.
2) Remote working
Just as not everyone necessarily needs to be present at the same time, we don’t all need to be present at all. One of the editors of Business Insider recently moved to a farm in Tasmania, where he feels healthier and sees more of his children.
Envato, a startup based in Melbourne, launched a “universal workplace flexibility” program, which encourages employees to work from home, and allows employees to work from anywhere in the world, at any time, for up to three months a year. The company also boasts support and flexibility for those who are carers or parents. The goal is happier co-workers, which Envato views as a way to boost productivity and retention.
3) Prioritise what needs to be done
Having a team that is always-on may mean more gets done in the short term, but it’s recipe for burnout. Soon enough the impact on mental health will wipe out any gains from a longer workday, hurting both the employee and the business in the process. The answer is to prioritise the stuff that does require attention after hours.
Flag work that needs to be attended to, and try to limit this as much as possible. Work outside of normal hours should be the exception, not the rule. If working outside of work-hours becomes too common place, it may be time to consider workloads and practices.
4) Job sharing
If an employee is looking for less hours, or to return to work with less hours, one solution might be to job share. That is, split the one role up among numerous people. They share the responsibilities, hours, wages and benefits. It’s great for those who want it, and it could be a boon for the business too.
For some roles having many minds, a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives, will lead to more innovative solutions. Problems and opportunities aren’t universally visible, or apparent at the same time to everyone, which is where diversity succeeds. And allowing a valued employee to stick around at reduced hours is an easy way to retain corporate memory.
5) Encourage vacation and travel
As beneficial as flexible and remote working can be, we often just need a complete break. Employees that are worn out, stressed, or who have racked up significant vacation hours should be encouraged to take a break. Go sit on a beach or see the world.
Travel, especially, can bring multiple benefits. Many companies encourage travel as it broadens the horizons of its employees, as well as allowing time to recharge and re-equip. Going away, leaving familiar surrounds, allows you to completely switch off. And going without a connection to home, office, or a local coffee shop, is the ultimate way to restore some balance and perspective.
More information and resources on creating mentally healthy workplaces is available at Headsup.org.au
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