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Is the pandemic workday taking a toll on the wellbeing of your people? We explore the impact of remote working on work-life balance and what it means for employers.

The shift to remote working brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic is having a profound impact on work-life balance but not, perhaps, in the way we expected. Employees are working longer, an extra 28 hours a month (on average) since lockdown measures were introduced – according to research by LinkedIn in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation.

Over four in ten employees say their workday has lengthened since working remotely, according to a recent poll. 21% of the survey’s respondents say they are unable to switch off from work, whilst 11% report having a heavier workload than usual.

As evidence continues to mount indicating that the pandemic has resulted in longer hours for many, it has been suggested that the increase is due to a change in working patterns and behaviours. Research by recruitment specialists, Robert Walters, reveals that 87% of workers feel pressured to sustain levels of productivity parallel to, if not higher than, that demonstrated at the office.

As a result, businesses could see a spike in reported cases of employee burnout, warns Walters. In the company’s survey involving 2,000 workers and 500 managers, it was found that almost half (47%) of managers think staff are at risk of burnout.

Moreover, in adapting to the ‘new normal’, 46% of UK employees are feeling the pressure to appear ‘present’ in the eyes of their employer, with 35% saying they continued working when sick.

Another study found that three quarters of HR leaders have observed a new culture of ‘e-presenteeism’ within their organisation since working from home during the pandemic. Meanwhile, 58% of HR managers fear they will lose staff as a result of work-related mental health issues brought on or exacerbated by homeworking.

This is a legitimate concern for employers, as 36% of employees report a decline in their mental wellbeing in connection with working longer hours, whilst 21% argue it is attributable to delivering under pressure. And of course, the impact of workplace stress on performance has long been documented, with the cost to the UK economy estimated to be around £4billion.

While employee mental health has been an area of growing interest for many employers in recent years – commonly centered around anxiety and depression – it must now become more of a business priority. It also necessitates a change in approach that is consistent with the fundamental shifts occurring at work. That is, employers need to tackle mental health as a work-related issue associated with pressures of the job – not just a personal matter caused by external factors that could spill over into the workplace.

Striking a healthy work-life balance positively impacts employee wellbeing and, in turn, productivity – key to every successful business. Not only that, it helps to create a positive work culture that promotes increased job satisfaction, employee engagement and retention. Companies such as Hiscox, Salesforce and Siemens, who are already recognising the need for work-life balance are, as a consequence, more likely to appeal to candidates and retain employees.

Fostering a positive work culture where employees are encouraged to work normal hours and enjoy a balanced lifestyle is fast becoming a business imperative.

How employers can help employees achieve better work-life balance

As remote workers adapt to the new ‘normal’, it’s important that managers adopt a different management style. Incorporating regular check-ins and wellbeing conversations is key to ensuring colleagues are supported in striking good work-life balance and maintaining their wellbeing.

Look out for unhealthy working practices. Managers should consider whether team members are working longer hours than usual, taking inadequate lunch breaks or reporting for work when unwell. In cases where the wellbeing of a colleague might be compromised, managers should seek to understand the reason behind such practices and explore how they can be supported.

Encourage colleagues to take leave. It’s important that colleagues are reminded to use their holiday allowance and allow themselves the opportunity to recover when unwell. This will help to prevent burnout and enable them to perform at their best.

Regularly review workloads. Colleagues may feel uncomfortable about asking for help with managing the responsibilities of their role. By checking-in with team members and having informal one-to-one conversations, managers can identify where adjustments need to be made to alleviate pressures they may be experiencing. This could involve prioritising tasks, evaluating and adjusting deadlines, or assessing whether additional resources are needed.

Ask colleagues for guidance. Without the involvement of colleagues, it can be difficult to understand the needs of team members and how they can be best supported. By encouraging their participation in open discussions, managers can gain valuable insight into what measures are necessary to cultivate a more healthy workforce.

Lead by example. Managers have a crucial role to play in supporting better work life-balance amongst their team, which involves not only being heard but also being seen as promoting wellbeing. By finishing work on time, having sufficient lunch breaks and taking annual leave, managers can influence colleagues to do the same. This can go a long way in positively shaping the culture and working practices of a remote workforce.

The Bank Workers Charity website contains a range of material and interactive tools to support wellbeing.

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