Flexible working – can employees and employers find the perfect balance?

Famously, the UK has the longest working hours in Europe, yet does this make us more productive as a nation? And are we happy?

This is a subject area I’ve been thinking about a lot in recent times.

A very senior and well respected recruiter I knew when I first started out in recruitment had a motto: “work smart and work fast”.  He would regularly shepherd his team out of the office once they’d achieved what they needed to achieve, regardless of the time on the clock. He wanted them to strike a healthy balance between being productive and motivated at work and also having a life outside of it. More than anything he loathed the “presenteeism” culture that can be prevalent in many office environments. Being the first one in and the last one to leave every night and forgoing your lunch breaks isn’t going to get you noticed for the right reasons in many organisations these days, and increasingly companies are not only recognising this, but acting on it, and creating working environments and initiatives which address the wellbeing of their employees.

I met with a new client recently and was struck by the way they actively embrace a healthy approach to working and what they call their “working smarter” initiative. There’s that sentiment again. This global organisation has instilled a flexible and open approach to working by encouraging its people across the entire business to avoid being desk bound wherever possible. As long as they have an internet connection and are on the end of their mobile, they are expected to work in different locations, whether that be other office spaces, open collaboration zones, coffee shops, their homes, wherever.  And this isn’t at the expense of productivity, meeting deadlines or fostering strong team relationships, as integral to ensuring a good balance between work and life are stacks of social events, educational courses, health and wellbeing treatments and just some good old fashioned face to face catch ups.

This company’s approach particularly resonated with me because I increasingly hear from candidates, friends and associates alike that they’ve had enough of relentlessly long days and full time office hours (on top of commuting) and they’re re-evaluating how they want to live and work and are now trying to rebalance their lives and the time they spend at work and the time they spend with family for example.

Added to this there is a noticeable increase in people wanting to work part time, go freelance or just have more flexible hours and this isn’t just occurring within the insight industry.  Working from home at least once or twice a week is becoming very much the norm now. Yet there are still companies which continue to foster a rather rigid approach to their staff physically being in an office for very long periods of time. Sometimes a few small adjustments on the part of an organisation, such as staggering the working hours of a team so that there’s always cover at the start and end of the day or introducing the option to work from home or remotely once a week can make all the difference to the happiness and wellbeing of employees.

However, before we get carried away and start daydreaming we can all work from a beach in Thailand with an iPad in one hand and a Piña Colada in the other, we might be a bit disappointed.  Little steps and little adjustments are the way the majority of businesses are going but it’s important that the momentum is maintained in order to have a healthy and happy workforce.

And things are certainly moving in the right direction.  A recent survey in the UK concluded that Brits think working a shorter day of 7 hours is more productive than the current average of eight or nine hours.  And some companies in Sweden have been experimenting with the introduction of a six hour working day, partly in a bid to challenge the conventional belief that people  can be consistently productive and effective for a solid eight or nine hours.

Aside from the obvious health benefits associated with avoiding long hours in largely sedentary jobs, the benefits of feeling more focused, and going home earlier than usual to spend time doing what you like to do sound pretty appealing don’t they?

So if you’re looking for a work-life balance which will suit you, spend some time seeking out the companies whose working cultures match what you’re looking for.  Check out the organisations who invest in the wellbeing of their people. And equally, if you’re hiring people into your business, do consider implementing some small but impactful flexible working changes which will keep your teams happy, productive and motivated.  Because there are plenty of companies who are starting to embrace these changes who are attracting great candidates in the process.