Katie Wadsworth, PR Consultant at Leeds-based Aberfield Communications, asks if there’s more to achieving a work-life balance than yoga workshops and free fruit.
Finding the right work-life balance can sometimes feel like searching for the elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s something we’re all told we should be seeking, but if you don’t have the right work environment, it can begin to feel like a myth.
Feeling like you have a work-life balance comes in large part from the atmosphere you work in. Office culture sets the tone for what you believe is or isn’t acceptable and if you don’t feel supported or encouraged by your employer to work in a way which is right for you, then you can quickly become disillusioned.
In the marketing sector, working late has become part of the status quo and accepted by many as just part of the job. Answering client emails out of hours, taking holiday to attend hospital appointments or making up time from a doctor’s appointment are things which many people in our industry routinely do. At Aberfield we don’t think any of these things should be expected or are acceptable, which is why creating a truly flexible, open environment has been at the heart of the way we work, right from our first day in 2012.
While there might be times when you need to be available for an early morning meeting or to answer a query, this shouldn’t be the norm.
That said, employers are, on the whole, beginning to recognise that workers want more from their jobs than just remuneration. Mental health and wellbeing at work are topics which are increasingly being discussed, both in the media, where you can find tips for success from top entrepreneurs and lifestyle theories from Sweden and Japan; but also in offices across the country. Employees expect more support from their place of work and there are lots of companies out there taking great strides by implementing Mental Health in the Workplace programmes, or training up mental health first-aiders. Innocent Smoothies and Ernst & Young are two good examples of big companies which have received positive press for their mental health provision, with staff given access to mental health resources 24 hours a day.
We’re also more aware of the importance of looking after our bodies too, so there’s been a steady rise in companies offering lunchtime yoga sessions or team exercise classes, and office fruit bowls are ever popular. Social media marketing agency, Social Chain, even has its own Director of Happiness and People.
There’s no denying that all of these benefits are important in ensuring you create a happy, healthy workforce. There’s also the added benefit that it makes a business more attractive to potential employees, because we all want more from our jobs, and that’s great, but a work-life balance means different things for different people. This means that for most companies, no matter what size, it’s hard to satisfy everyone. But there are some simple changes to office culture which are consistently overlooked by even the most forward thinking office spaces; being offline and leaving on time.
In an increasingly connected world we’re at someone’s beck and call with the touch of a button. Now most professionals will testify that they find themselves scrolling through client emails late at night, or while they’re supposed to be relaxing with friends and family on a weekend. Everyone knows that they shouldn’t, but when they’re already loaded onto your phone, the temptation is often too great. This reality has led to some interesting responses across the globe, for example, employees in France won the legal right to avoid checking work email out-of-hours, which came into force in 2017, and similar legislation has been proposed in New York.
Although I’m not proposing that we need to enshrine a work-life balance in UK law, the examples of France and New York do highlight that there needs to be a cultural change from employers, giving employees the flexibility to explore what their work-life balance is. Some people like to use their commute to get ahead of themselves, but recoup that time by not answering emails while they’re picking their kids up in the afternoon. Truly flexible working means being able to work anywhere, any time, without having to commit to being out of the office the same day every week, because life doesn’t work like that, so nor do we.
While I’m not saying you’ll never hear from anyone at Aberfield out of hours, it’s not very often, because we’re clear that we don’t think it’s healthy to be online 24/7. We all need time to switch off and re-charge – something you can’t do if you’re constantly checking your phone for the next message.
The same goes for leaving on time. It might sound obvious, but how many of us look up only to realise that 5.30pm has been and gone because we just want to finish one last thing? Having a work-life balance means being clever with your time. If you’re constantly working late you need to ask yourself why? It’s not a criticism, but it’s important to understand if you need to change the way you work; leave something until tomorrow; or simply have too much on, and need to ask for support.
As well as taking a toll on staff, routinely having to work late also suggests there is something wrong with a company’s business model. Clients pay you to achieve objectives during work hours, and that’s how you pay your staff, so if people are working late, they’re not only working for free for themselves, but also for your clients, meaning you’re over servicing and underselling your services.
The same goes for presenteeism. In our office you won’t find anyone staying late and looking busy just to get noticed, because that’s not what we’re here for. It doesn’t benefit you and it doesn’t benefit the business. In fact, you’re far more likely to find yourself being chivvied out the door by a fellow colleague telling you to go home!
We’ve also extended our 5pm finish from Fridays, to every day. So if you’re done with your work, there’s no need to sit in the office when you can be spending time pursuing your hobby or spending time with family. But that’s because we believe that a great workplace is one which ensures you come in feeling refreshed every day. Because let’s face it, you’re far more likely to feel enthusiastic about getting up in the morning if you haven’t worked yourself into the ground the day before.
So while salary and benefits are important, it’s a solid office culture that builds the foundation for happy and healthy employees. Getting a good work-life balance requires so much more than a checklist of benefits and programmes at work; it’s about the day-to-day interactions you have with the people around you and how you feel when you walk out of that door each day. And sometimes, it’s about working somewhere which tells you to switch off and go home!
Work-life balance initiatives:
- Not encouraged to access emails outside work hours or have emails synched up to your phone
- Early finish every day of the week, not just Friday
- Individual preference on if your mobile phone number is on your business cards
- Don’t have to make time up for personal appointments etc.
- Pastoral support available
- Additional holidays for long service and a holiday buying scheme
- If it works with your team, you can work from home anytime