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However much an organisation wants to build a strong culture, unless employee engagement is built into the change, nothing will happen.
However much an organisation wants to build a strong culture, unless employee engagement is built into the change, nothing will happen. Over the years we’ve seen remedial engagement proposals covering virtually every aspect of organisational life from the colour of the furniture to free doughnuts in the canteen. Regardless of the remedy, at heart the secret is to treat employees as valued individuals.
In pursuit of this, we have watched with interest the changing regulations in France which ban certain organisations from contacting employees outside of work time and the latest innovation from Daimler to offer employees the chance to delete all e-mails which arrive whilst they are on holiday.
Innovative as these solutions may be, they do seem to be an attempt to blanket treat the symptoms rather than the disease. Having respect for individuals means working with them to create a balance which best suits their needs. Flexible working, making private calls in work time, making business calls in home time can all be accommodated as part of an overall respect agenda. The danger with initiatives which seek to preserve home time as inviolate is that in turn business time is also rigidly controlled and that benefits no-one.
Why care about the work life balance? What does it matter if employees loose home time to take a call, work on a report or answer e-mails? After all, in certain parts of The City working extended hours is almost a badge of honour. In some offices commitment equals long hours and woe betide the person who leaves before the team leader or who fails to show up by 7am, even after a heavy session the night before. Isn’t the culture of long hours just a rite of passage, a part of learning the job?
Let’s examine this a little further and have a look at what runs alongside these long hour cultures starting with burnout. A Canada Life survey in June this year revealed that 12% of employees have taken time off due to stress whilst 17% had done so because they were tired, another symptom of the long hours culture. In fact, employee burnout is one of the leading causes of absenteeism and can also lead to long term health problems. Businesses expecting employees to work long hours therefore harm themselves in the long run with an increase in absenteeism and long term sickness leading eventually to the loss of key employees.
Aside from burnout, the business cultures which encourage skewed work life balances are in danger of skewing other working attributes such as probity and professionalism. Take banking culture for example. Is it coincidence that mis-selling and market manipulation for fast profits came on the back of the culture of long hours? When teams are pressured, when they turn in on themselves and lose a sense of balance is precisely when the sense of fair play and proportionality also disappear. Yes a ‘fast buck’ may be made but the fines and reparations together with the customer mis-trust which follows can result in an overall loss in the long term.
Treat people as machines, look to extract every pound of flesh you can from them and what you get back are unthinking automata with an unhealthy and uncaring world view. Take care of employees, treat them with respect and not only will the business benefit but it will start to generate long term profitability from loyal customers. In today’s connected world seeking to rigidly separate work from home time is not the answer. Finding ways to balance the two will benefit everyone in the long term.