Work-life balance: A complicated menu
Continuing his series on work-life balance, Philip Fisher compiles a list of practices practitioners should implement to boost employees' attitude towards work.
At face value, you would imagine that the factors which can improve the quality of working life are limited. However, anyone who sits back and begins to list component elements that could be flexed will quickly discover an almost unlimited supply.
The long-term goal should be to ensure staff stability and a positive attitude that maximises performance.
Given the difficulty of finding suitable employees, it may now be necessary for some practices to consider taking on people under innovative contracts.
For example, two individuals might wish to share a job, each working a five day fortnight. Fixed term, zero hour contracts could also be a solution in some situations, as could the use of temporary staff in busy periods.
Buying and selling holidays is another option, as is a contract that allows absence during school holidays.
It may not come under the commonly understood umbrella of work/life balance but creating a pleasant working culture can take the stress out of the day job, making a trip to the office a pleasure rather than a chore (well almost).
Life can often be greatly enhanced for all parties by flexing working hours.
Working at home
In the past, it was a given that the average employee would work in the office from (say) 9-to-5 with a one-hour lunch break.
In these enlightened times, working at home has become de rigueur, although if this writer’s observations are anything to go by, in some cases the word “working” earlier in this sentence would have to be viewed with a pinch of salt.
Some might decide that they are willing to work silly hours for a fixed number of years, prior to the pleasures of early retirement.
Talking of salt, it is sad to see the way in which business culture has diminished the importance of taking an hour off at lunchtime. While everyone is different, it is hard to believe that most employees will not be much fresher in the afternoon if they take their mind off the stresses of the working day halfway through it.
I am definitely not advocating a return to the good old days when professionals enjoyed five pints lunchtimes - that is counter-productive. However, cleansing the mental palette at the gym or sandwich bar could well mean that more work is done in seven hours than eight worked flat out, particularly across a very busy week.
The same might even apply to hourly fag breaks, although that is more questionable, regardless of the health risks.
Benefits in Kind
Making people feel better about working for your firm can help to increase their productivity and the length of their tenure.
If nothing else, as part of a flexible working culture it may be necessary to provide computers or tablets and phones. Giving people nice pieces of kit that work will not only enhance performance but also create additional goodwill.
Traditional Christmas parties are fraught with danger and will only please some. Activity days, overseas jaunts (particularly for working conferences!) and even things like a box at the Emirates or the opera might be worth trying. These will probably have to be coupled with PAYE Settlement Agreements unless you want a generous gesture to backfire badly when the employee receives his or her P11D a year later.
If people believe that they are having a good time while they are working, that has to be good news as long as the cost in terms of time and cash expended is not excessive.