Improve Work-Life Balance to Increase Engagement and Productivity

15 million people in the UK, nearly half of the workforce, will be looking for a new job in 2016. The main reasons people give for this are poor management, not feeling valued, poor remuneration, and the hours they have to work [1]. If so many people are wishing to be anywhere other than in their current workplace, it is clear that engagement levels and productivity will suffer.
All the research I have ever seen indicates that a happier employee is a more engaged and productive one, as well as someone you are more likely to retain. One way of improving both retention and productivity is to do more than just pay lip service to the importance of work-life balance. At the moment, 42% of UK workers believe the balance is skewed towards work and 34% believe their productivity is lower because they are tired and stressed from trying to balance work and family [2]. This month’s People Management magazine opens with an article from Peter Cheese, CIPD’s Chief Executive, on well-being at work. He points out that for more and more of the HR Directors he speaks to, this is high on the agenda. When the average cost per UK employee of sickness absence alone is £554 a year, this is no surprise.
If you are serious about creating a stand-out employer-brand and retaining your best and brightest, here are some strategies you could consider implementing to improve work-life balance and well-being in your organisation:
1. Help to alleviate the stress of commuting! According to a BBC survey last month, a third of rail and a quarter of car commuters said they found their commute stressful. Cycling is one of the least stressful ways of getting to work. Solutions to improve difficult commutes include enabling employees to flex their hours so that less of them are travelling during the rush hour. More employees can be encouraged to cycle by providing practical solutions such as showers, changing facilities and covered bike racks.
2. Allow for flexible hours and/or telecommuting! A recent survey showed that a third of employees would choose greater flexibility within their working pattern over a 3% pay rise. Gemma Reucroft, HR Director and blogger, sees flexible working as a major talent opportunity and a way of differentiating your employer brand. In an article for Glassdoor, she says:
“It might mean employees working their hours over four days rather than five. It might mean a tweak to the traditional working day to allow for the school run. It might mean occasional working from home rather than the office, commuting outside of the rush hour or a simple reduction from the usual 37-hour working week.”
Colgate-Palmolive partly attributes its ability to attract and retain its people to the fact that employees have the option to work flexible hours or telecommute [3].  The majority of the companies listed below on Glassdoor’s UK Top 20 for work-life balance also offer flexible working.
3. Reduce the number of hours in an average working day! Employees working fewer hours are more productive than those burning the midnight oil.  Many studies, such as that by Stanford Professor John Pencavel, have proven that longer hours do not equate to better results [4]. He found that productivity decreases after 50 hours of work in a week, so much so that someone who works 70 hours in a week produces the same amount as someone who works 55 hours. KPMG has seen big results from shorter weeks, and looks at flexibility as a strategic business tool which allows us them to accomplish their business goals and become more successful [5].
4. Tackle email overload! A system originally designed to improve collaboration and efficiency has evolved to kill it. To recover, we need to move away from a model of indiscriminate emailing, posting and meeting to a future of targeted conversations. Many employees check emails in the evenings, on weekends, or on holiday, with the additional stress of an overloaded inbox when they return from time off. The internet abounds with companies who have banned emails sent outside regular working hours, including Daimler who block emails sent to their employees during holidays. Volkswagen’s servers, as early as 2012, stopped emails during evenings and weekends. There are also an increasing number of companies who have stopped email usage completely.
5. Create high autonomy and accountability! Developing a culture where employees are given clear expectations alongside the flexibility to choose how they get there, minimises stress, and increases productivity. When employees fully understand the organisation’s purpose and goals, they are able to work towards them with greater efficiency and commitment. Clarity of purpose coupled with low autonomy to deliver can easily generate stress and burnout, so managers need to give the right amount of empowerment to their employees. Cornerstone OnDemand, the global training company, promotes “100% autonomy in exchange for 100% accountability”. It’s not easy for leaders or managers to communicate goals and then give their employees the freedom to deliver. However, when this is carried through effectively, it simplifies working practices, increases efficiency and enables a better balance to be struck between achieving results at work and the other equally pressing parts of life.
6. Encourage employees to exercise! The synergy between physical and mental well-being and productivity is an obvious one.  At the Bank of England, employees have use of a health centre, an on-site gym, and a 32-acre sports club. While many organisations are not able to boast such impressive facilities, they can still value and encourage their employees to be active. Lunch-time walking clubs and financial help for gym membership are options and many organisations promote charity walks or runs as part of their CSR activities, which also support employees to get fitter.
7. Turn off the lights! Some businesses have a culture of presenteeism – being in the office but not contributing in any valuable way. Competition to stay latest at the office does not help to build an appealing workplace culture, nor does it improve productivity. Beam Suntory, the global spirits and beverages company, have implemented an array of measures to ensure reasonable working hours, such as abolishing unpaid overtime, and expanding flexi-time. Another of their very simple yet successful techniques is to strictly enforce the rule of turning off the lights at the end of the day to encourage their employees to go home earlier [6].

Which Companies Offer the Best Balance, as Voted by Employees?

With UK workers increasingly grappling with the challenge of managing their lives at home and work, rankings such as Glassdoor’s Top 20 UK Companies for work-life balance, as featured in The Telegraph, are a gift to companies trying to retain and attract talent. Here are the current top 10 companies:
1. Euromonitor International, the market research and intelligence company, has a true and rare 9-5:30pm culture.
2. The Bank of England offers 35 days off a year and many options for flexible working.
3. MediaMath, a marketing technology company, offers flexible hours.
4. Unibet, the online gambling and betting company, encourages employees to try new activities.
5. Equal Experts, a custom software builder company, maximises the social side of work.
6. Holiday Extras, a pre-booking airport hotels and parking company, makes home life a priority and promotes flexible working.
7. FinancialForce.com, the cloud-based accounting system company, also offers flexible working to make it easy to fit personal commitments around work, and vice versa!
8. Aspire, the digital media and marketing recruitment company, makes staff improvements a priority and, guess what, also offers flexible working hours.
9. Swiss Re, the reinsurance company, is described by employees as a great choice for those seeking flexible hours.
10. Pentland is a sports and leisure company with a vast stable of well-known brands including Berghaus, Speedo, and Ellesse. Our Founder, Tim Pointer, can personally testify to this company being in the Top 10, having been its Global HR Director for 5 years!
Enjoying a better work-life balance is a priority for your employees. There are many options you can choose from to make it a reality, and you will then reap the rewards in terms of better engagement, retention and productivity.
We work with many leading companies in the UK, as well as globally, that are seeking ways to differentiate their employer brand, become an Employer of Choice and tackle engagement challenges throughout, or in part of, their organisation. While supporting well-being in itself isn’t the only solution, it is a key piece of the jigsaw.  Please contact us on 01727 847398 or email us  – we’d love to speak to you! 
[1] Independent. “Almost half of the UK workforce will look for a new job in 2016”
[2] HR Magazine “Only 36% have healthy work/family balance”
[3] Forbes
[4] John Pencavel, Stanford University, discussion paper, 2014, The Productivity of Working Hours
[5] Fast Company How These Companies Have Made the Four Day Working Week Feasible
[6] Beam Suntory, Corporate Responsibility
© Celestine Casserley, Starboard, 2016