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What are employers doing about the problematic always-on work culture?

Written by Zen Terrelonge on Thursday, 17 May 2018. Posted in Wellbeing, People

As almost three-quarters of British employees find themselves engaging with work matters in personal time, we’ve spoken with employers to see where they stand on presenteeism outside of office hours

What are employers doing about the problematic always-on work culture?

Work-life balance is the holy grail of employment and it’s a term that’s gained more exposure over the past few years. This is in part due to company talent battles becoming more competitive alongside workers getting more expectant of what employers can offer – a quick look at offices and perks of Google, Facebook and the like and it quickly becomes clear why.

Yet, work-life balance isn’t nearly as commonplace as we might think – or like. This became apparent in new research where CV-Library, the job site, surveyed 1,200 workers to find that 72.4% of Brits engage with work-related emails and calls in their private time away from the job. Emphasising just how embedded this is into routines, 34.8% scan their phones for work developments before going to sleep and first thing when they rise. 

Unsurprisingly though, this is having a knock-on effect that’s impacting workers’ personal lives. When asked about some of, the most commonly problems 52.8% suffered from poor quality of sleep, 51.9% had increased stress levels, 50.6% felt exhausted, 47.6% spent less time with family and  38.8%  were unable to do enjoyable hobbies.

Commenting on the results of the study, Lee Biggins, founder and managing director of CV-Library, said that technology has been an excellent tool for unlocking progress but it also filters outside of the work environment. It’s cause for concern, especially with Mental Health Awareness Week taking place from May 14-18, that will give bosses food for thought.

“Work-life balance is hugely important, not just for employees, but for businesses as well,” Biggins explained. “Over-worked staff can become fatigued, will be less productive and ultimately could end up burning out. And with almost half admitting that they have left a job where they were unable to achieve a good balance, encouraging staff to switch off after work is vital if you wish to retain talented employees.”

Indeed, the study showed work is on the minds of 65.1% of staff outside of working hours and 29.5% feel they don’t have a good work-life balance. So how are employers tackling this always-on practise taking root across the nation?

Rebecca Oatley, managing director at Cherish PR, the public relations agency, detailed the business has an international client base. That means staff have customers they need to meet the needs of at all hours and that’s something she takes on board, realising the always on-demand of communications across email, phone, WhatsApp and beyond can run the team down.

“How we support the team by being a fair employer and good service provider is by taking an honest and open approach with our clients from day one,” Oatley said. “We outline to clients that from 6pm UK time we become a responsive agency until 9pm, meaning we respond rather than action.” The same rules apply to the morning, with a responsive process in place between 7.30am until 9am, at which time office hours begin. “This way everyone, from clients to team members, understand what is expected and when we do deliver to clients outside the norm, they appreciate we are going the extra mile as a team,” she added.

“Our work as a team could easily span 24-hours a day thanks to the always-on culture we live in. But by being honest and open, both internally as a company and with our clients, it means everyone understands the boundaries. This is really important in today’s society and would have a big impact on team wellbeing if it wasn’t managed correctly.”

Apprentice winner Joseph Valente, founder of ImpraGas, the boiler installer, had similar thoughts on the always-on employee culture, that it’s part and parcel of working in the modern world. And this approach is in direct response to the customer base as he detailed that clients will get in touch through social media if they can’t connect via phone or email.

“If we have customers that need answers or want to place sales then we need to be able to get back to them quickly,” Valente said. “Sometimes, this does mean that we need out of hours conversations with our staff. This isn't an everyday occurrence but if a customer has reached out to ask about an installation or needs to cancel a fit, it's imperative I can get that information to the relevant party as soon as possible.”

He did note that out of hours communication is usually only for senior management. “I firmly believe that this comes with the job,” he added. For Valente, the goal is not to eat into personal time for the sake of it. “I'm obviously not going to call them in the evening to ask what they had for lunch or to chase up an invoice that isn't due for another week. It will only ever be if it's of an immediate benefit to the company or customer.” 

A key measure to ensure satisfaction across the board is respect and understanding, Valente offered. “If they do have to work late or take a call outside of office hours or jump on an email then they get told thank you or given time off another day or a token of appreciation in some way,” he said. “The customer is king and we never want to let someone down or not deliver an update quick enough just because someone's finished for the day.”

It’s a different story altogether for Maths Mathisen, CEO of Hold, the app that rewards students for not using their phone. The business doesn’t use email for internal communication whatsoever, so chances of staff needing to sift through their inbox over dinner at home are slim.

“All communications take place in person or, if needed, via the telephone – meaning we really encourage our team to communicate in person when on-site and not outside of working hours,” Mathisen said. “We also don’t allow employees to take their laptops home with them. Once they finish working, they’re in their private life and work shouldn’t disrupt that. We know that our team will work better if it has a healthy work-life balance, so we’re strict on these policies.”

It’s certainly an interesting approach from Hold, which assures there’s no grey area or blurred lines. Swedish entrepreneur David Brudö, co-founder and CEO at Remente, the mental wellbeing and personal development app, knows first-hand what it’s like to suffer from mental health struggles. Indeed, having experienced work-related stress, which led to depression, Brudö found it difficult to find help beyond seeing a psychologist and that led him to start Remente.

Reflecting on his past, he said: “The absence of a healthy work-life balance meant that I felt out of control and unable to take the time to reflect and recover when I had a hectic day or a busy work schedule. Essentially, I was lacking the tools and insights to manage my mental wellbeing.”

Having undertaken cognitive behavioural therapy to manage his depression and stress, planning, meditating, reflecting and exercising are all now part of his ongoing lifestyle to manage his mental health. On that front, Brudö added: “It’s worth noting that managing your mental health should not be a one off thing, rather it is something we need to do continuously in order to stay healthy.”

As for how he ensures that staff don’t end up walking the path Brudö had to, he detailed: “We have a typical Swedish company culture, which is less hierarchical and focuses on involving the whole team when it comes to making decisions around the daily work balance. We have seen first-hand that setting motivational goals together increases productivity and reduces stress, as it gives the team clear and manageable direction. 

“In addition, we offer health benefits to our employees, promote meditation and utilise the Result Oriented Workplace Environment principle, which provides employees with the freedom to work when and where they want, helping them to manage their work-life balance.”

Likewise, Robert Hicks, group HR director at Reward Gateway, the employee engagement company, knows the risks of burnout and recommended caution. “Burnout is an issue of increasing importance. Especially for those that cover multiple geographies or that cover a wide set of hours,” he said.

“Companies and employees should be making sure that staff actually do take their holiday allowance. If I ruled the world, I would insist that every employee takes a week off every six months and take a two-week break every year, without fail. Another thing you can do is use your eyes when you are in the office. For example, if I am working late into the evening in the office, I find out why others are also there and make sure it’s not a regular occurrence. It’s simple to speak to your staff and figure out why they might be on a road to burning out. We need to treat mental health as we do physical.”

With campaigns like Mental Health Awareness Week and switched on employers, the way mental health is treated in the workplace should soon be ripe for change. 

About the Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge

As editor, Terrelonge can be found on the hunt for all things startup and scaleup – that's when he's not busy talking babies via DADult Life. Whether it's health or hospitality, food or philanthropy, tech or travel, he'll be seeking out the most interesting entrepreneurial developments to run in the magazine and online.

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