Time to clamp down on the work-life double standard

Steve Haworth
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Half of UK employees have had a holiday interrupted by work (Source: Getty)

Ironically, it’s technology that will solve the very predicament it has created

This year marks five years since legislation was broadened out to give all employees the right to request flexible working from their employer.

What’s developed since then is a highly mobile workforce that has made the most of flexible working freedoms and the ability to work from anywhere.

But while freedom and flexibility have been embraced, this has also led to a significant blurring of the lines between work and personal time.

As fixed office hours have become a thing of the past, the distinction between work and personal time has become less obvious.

The 24/7 nature of technology, combined with flexible working freedoms, means that employees are finding it increasingly difficult to disconnect from the demands of work.

The numbers are startling. In a recent survey, we found that over half of UK employees have had a holiday interrupted by work, while two thirds say work communications are eating into their evenings and weekends.

And with 92 per cent of directors having their evenings disrupted by work, it’s clear that this situation only gets worse as people move up the career ladder.

Workers in the capital are also more likely to be interrupted by work than those in any other region.

Sounds like a familiar situation, no? But think about if the shoe were on the other foot. What if employees interrupted their working hours with personal demands and interests?

Perhaps a junior executive walks out of a meeting with their manager to take a personal call, or comes into the office late because their prior social event overran.

The receptionist steps out of the office as the VIP guest is arriving because they fancy grabbing coffee with a friend. If that sounds unacceptable, maybe we need to rethink the pressure to interrupt our free time with work.

During a traditional working day, employees may now be doing the school run, spending quality time with their children, or going to medical appointments.

However, the trade-off to being able to catch up in their own time is that it is not clear when work hours actually end, making it hard to switch off.

Employers are increasingly encouraging mobile and flexible working because of the benefits it brings, including increased staff satisfaction, improved productivity, and cost savings.

But for employees, constant interruptions from work during their downtime is not promoting a healthy work-life balance. Having work-related apps and emails on personal devices may help facilitate flexible working, but it also exacerbates the “always on” culture.

So if we don’t want work to take up every corner of our lives, what’s the solution? Employees should set clear boundaries between work and life, and once they’re set, they need to stick to them.

Technology has been developed to help employees switch off. They can now divert business calls outside of work hours.

Ironically, it’s technology that will solve the very predicament that it has created. Meanwhile, employers can rest easy that their staff aren’t going to walk out of a meeting to catch their favourite daytime TV programme.