Work-life balance in the age of Covid-19

James Caldecott
December 17, 2020
Work-life balance in the age of Covid-19

The term work-life balance may have first been coined by Brits in the 1980s, but it is a term that is still relevant and much debated today. Evolving over the decades, the phrase was originally used by the Women’s Liberation Movement, advocating for flexible hours and maternity leave. Today, and with the dawn of the digital revolution that generated an ‘always on’ culture, the work-life balance has become a complex, genderless conundrum.

With the forced closure of offices nationwide in March 2020, it became more important than ever for business leaders to safeguard the work-life equilibrium. HR expert Josh Bersin agrees and says that one thing is now certain; the working landscape has changed, forever:

You don’t go to the workplace; the workplace comes to you.
Podcast The top 3 predictions for HR Strategy for 2021, with Josh Bersin Listen to the podcast now

Prior to Covid-19, working from home was still somewhat the work-life balance unicorn, available only for the privileged few. Now, with working from home happening ‘en masse’, we see for the first time that it could in fact have a negative effect if not managed appropriately.Since the first lockdown in March, 73% of workers believe that they are more efficient when working remotely according to Statista Research Department, while 68% say they also work more hours at home. However, working more hours doesn’t necessarily equal higher productivity, at least not in the long-term.

A study commissioned by LinkedIn in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation supports these findings and say that throughout the pandemic, people who have been working from home have often been exerting themselves beyond their capacity, leading to high levels of fatigue. The research found that on average, office workers were increasing their workload by an extra 28 hours each month by working from home.

In addition, the ONS report that a disproportionate amount of childcare is falling upon women who have been working from home while home-schooling or providing the main childcare for children under school age. Parents have been fitting their work around their childcare responsibilities with data suggesting that they’ve been working in the morning and at night – an unsustainable juggling act.

In 2021 it is likely that at some point, workers will begin returning to the office again, and we are yet to understand what that return will look like. However, the accelerated shift to working from home that 2020 brought seems set to become a permanent feature to our working week.

Whether an omnipresent workplace is a positive experience or not, rests on the shoulders of employers. With workload intrinsically linked to a person’s mental and physical health, it is imperative that employers take a keen eye on how much they are expecting of their people.Below are some useful suggestions from the CIPD as to how you can help keep your peoples work-life balance in check. You can also listen to more of Josh Bersin’s insights and perspectives on the HR challenges and changes that have arisen from the pandemic here.

Tips for a healthy work-life balance while remote working

  • Be clear about when your working day begins and ends and take breaks to refresh.
  • When work is over, be sure you switch off to avoid burnout. Cultivate healthy habits such as taking exercise and fresh air every day.
  • Minimise stress. Managers should set clear expectations about the way employees should deliver and receive communications throughout the working day. This will help alleviate pressure and anxiety.
  • Have a daily virtual huddle. This is essential for keeping connected and a means for line managers to check in on their team’s physical and mental well-being and discuss any additional support they need to fulfil their roles from home.
  • Discourage presenteeism. If you’re unwell, take leave and do your best to give an update or handover on urgent work. As a manager or team leader, encourage people to take time off if unwell.
  • Offer support on well-being. Remind staff of their existing health and well-being benefits and how to access them when working remotely.

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