Why the work-life balance is now more important than ever
by Siobhan Hammond, Employee Engagement Consultant, BergHind Joseph
October 23 2012 - In a double dip recession that is deeper than originally feared, it appears that that great British resolve is shining through (well, in the work place at least) following the release of the 29th British Social Attitudes Report (BSA29).
Whilst the report investigates a raft of topics from opinion on public health services to attitudes towards social unity; the findings are all too often used to only fuel political debate and the media's apparent desire to perpetually publish 'doom and gloom'.
But in this instance, it appears BSA29 offers a beacon of light: a light that demonstrates not all is ill in our economy and that we can harbour positivity at a time when negativity seems to rule the roost. The beacon in question is the fact that workers today are demonstrating higher levels of satisfaction in their jobs than ever before. With employees having an average satisfaction level of 7.3 out of 10- a significant jump from the 6.9 figure reported in 2006 (pre-recession).
Whilst the reasons for these statistics are somewhat unknown, given the adverse economic climate us Brits appear to be remaining positive in a time of austerity, and are simply appreciative of being in work. But do these statistics also suggest something else? Perhaps that whilst organisations are battening down the hatches when it comes to recruitment etc., they are making a concerted effort to be more sensitive and responsive to employees contentment levels.
The criterion for getting someone to be satisfied in their job is comprised of a raft of things from:
- how much pressure exists at work;
- to the degree of understanding (and belief) in an organisations purpose;
- to the level of trust and confidence had in senior management.
But whilst each of these aspects is pivotal, the one factor that's paramount is the work-life balance. An area that is controlled by ourselves to an extent, but is also influenced by management and the right working culture - areas that can be shaped by organisations themselves.
Whilst senior management may deem it inconsequential to focus efforts on this, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has proven that those businesses who do, will benefit greatly - from higher levels of engagement within the business to enhanced productivity and profitability.
A recent report from the CIPD has proven that those employees who do have a healthy work life balance are likely to be more engaged with the business - with 8 in 10 engaged employees (77%) agreeing or strongly agreeing that they achieve the right balance between their work and home lives. A stark contrast when comparing it to 50% of employees who have neutral engagement (they are neither engaged nor disengaged), and just 27% of workers who are disengaged.
Job Satisfaction: UK vs Europe
Whilst it may appear the UK is a connoisseur in the job satisfaction market, and that the double dip recession is the antidote for increasing happiness at work, there is a caveat: our European compatriots are fields ahead of us in this area:
The stark reality is the satisfaction we have with our jobs and work-life balance in the UK is comparative to that of four other former members of the Communist bloc. These findings may not be deemed encouraging, but could equally be viewed as an opportunity. After all, as UK employers are currently investing inside the business, perhaps we could learn a thing or two from others in the EU to enhance our working culture?
"Best in class"
The Danes are leading the way when it comes to job satisfaction; shaped primarily because of an embedded culture for having a healthy work-life balance. But, they have other systems in place too which may make it a great country to work in:
- Unlike the UK, the Danish workplace has a large number of female managers, with a good proportion reaching the highest levels in an organisation. This creates an environment that is not only based on equality, but also one of diversity whereby the power of mixed teams can maximise performance, create a healthy working environment and expand the content of individual's jobs.
- For the Danes, the hierarchical structure of business is quite flat. Managers are regarded as 'primus inter pares' ('first amongst equals') rather than figures of authority who give direct instructions to subordinates.
- Instead an approach or solution to something is agreed through detailed discussion and negotiation; enabling employees to feel they are being treated fairly, that they have a voice, and that management have trust in them (2)
- Unlike us Brits, the Danes tend to only work their contracted hours and make a strong separation between work and private life.
In addition to this, many workplaces have a family policy and are flexible to the needs of parents; advocating part time work or flexible hours.
Similarly, when becoming a parent, employees are entitled to one full year of paid parental leave - which parents can apportion as they wish (3)
The Norwegians boast some of the best working conditions in the world. This, teamed with moderate working hours, competitive pay and interesting work assignments means their employees are some of the happiest:
- Heavy importance is placed on getting to and from work easily. With the Norwegians believing the commute has a direct influence on the work-life balance. That is why when Norwegian cities grow, they are built from population centres like Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim to reduce congestion and even make it possible to get to work without a vehicle.
- When at work, the Norwegians are efficient workers and don't believe in staying late at work or working weekends - a stark contrast to ourselves in the UK who on average spend 5 hours more at work each week than any other EU country.
- Similar to the Danes, the Norwegians have a family friendly policy when it comes to work and child care. Parents have the right to work reduced hours so they can spend more time with their children; an aspect which lifts a huge burden from people's shoulders and reinforces the need for a healthy work-life balance.(4)
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) highlights that the Swiss work 7% less hours a year compared to the EU average. In addition to this, they have some of the highest salaries in Europe (although they equally have some of the highest costs of living) (5) But working hours and salary aren't the only areas that create high levels of job satisfaction within Switzerland:
- The Swiss are probably one of the most efficient nations when it comes to their working ethos. Meetings for example will be highly structured, and follow an agenda. It is also expected that people will arrive at the meeting well-prepared and with sufficient information to hand.
It is with such structure, that work gets completed efficiently and effectively. What's more, everyone shares a common objective and direction - a key criterion to maintain motivation and create a job role that is varied and interesting.
- The management style that exists within Switzerland is fairly low key in its approach, ascertaining trust amongst employees.
- Unlike us Brits, the Swiss believe in plain speaking and place directness before diplomacy when communicating. An attribute that is intrinsically linked to a satisfied and engaged employee in terms of creating a positive working relationships and a clear understanding of the job at hand .(6)
Back on UK soil
The business case for job satisfaction is clear: satisfied employees make for a more engaged workforce that will be committed and advocate the business. What's more it'll make for a more productive and profitable business.
Whilst BSA29 reports that job satisfaction in the UK is higher than ever before, evidence from operations in other EU countries suggests more can be done when it comes to sustaining and increasing it. From cultural aspects such as those leadership and managerial techniques adopted by the Danish; to aspects that focus on policy like the Norwegians outlook on family, or the Danes take on women in senior managerial roles. Then there are aspects that already exist in the UK but should be fortified further, from flexible working hours, to stepping away from office 'martyrdom' and placing greater emphasis on smarter, more flexible working.
Siobhan Hammond: With over sixteen years' experience in employee engagement solutions Siobhan has significant experience of working with companies to help deliver results; and is passionate about helping companies improve their overall performance and productivity through their people.
Tel: 020 7407 7788
BergHind Joseph: BergHind Joseph is a creative communication agency that uses design, research and strategic thinking across all digital, print and experiential media, to help ambitious businesses build their reputation.