Working from home I hear you say? Isn’t that just an excuse to sit at home and ‘pretend to work’ when you’re sat watching the telly? Well what if I told you otherwise…
Working from home or skiving?
There are many managers with traditional ideas who view home working as an excuse to get an extra day off. But I can tell you that a study conducted in May 2012 by the CIPD called ‘Flexible Working Provision and Uptake’ found that 56% of employers noted a drop-in absenteeism following the introduction of flexible working, 58% saw an increase in productivity and 73% reported an increase in motivation. According to a health and well-being charity, employers should be looking to move from the 9-5 culture in favour of flexible working to reduce the necessity of ‘non-active commuting’. Not only can it improve productivity and motivation, but it can improve the health, safety and wellbeing of employees. A win-win, when done properly.
Commuting, is it even worth the stress?
24 million people commute to work every day for an average of 56 minutes. Health in a Hurry draws on research that indicates ‘passive commuting’ can negatively impact on health and well-being. There is a positive correlation between commute lengths and GP appointments, and the Office for National Statistics found that commuters have on average lower life satisfaction, lower levels of happiness and higher levels of anxiety due to these commutes.
One other study found that commuting can lead to physical effects such as increased pulse rate and higher blood pressure. With all these negatives associated with commuting and the stress of getting to work, it’s a wonder how the concept of working from home hasn’t been introduced earlier. It’s even been found that there is a connection between commuting and a higher body mass index.
Working to live / living to work? Which one are you
Let me ask you this question? Do you work to live, or do you live to work? Many of us may have started our careers on the basis of working to live, but somehow the time and cost spent traveling to work and the pressures / additional work being loaded on us when we’re there has tipped the balance. The result: we end up living to work! And this is particularly the case in the South East and other major cities in the UK where the cost of housing is so high that people are moving out and commuting from further afar. The result can negatively impact the health and welfare of the individual, and whilst it is not a requirement under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 to manage health, safety and welfare outside of work, the negative effects of commuting should be taken into account to ensure good staff health and welfare once they’ve actually arrived at the workplace.
So, do we need to improve our work-life balance?
We’re hearing more in the media and general chat about needing to improve our ‘work-life’ balance, which includes the proper prioritising between ‘work’ and ‘lifestyle’. But how can employees be expected to balance their work and lifestyle when they’re spending four hours of their day just commuting to their place of work? Just think of how much work they could get done in that time.
Of course there are other options like working closer to home. But in the current economic environment this is just not a luxury most people can have. Train prices are soaring, fuel is still ridiculously expensive, and the population is so high that the roads are unbearable most of the time; add this to the fact that the demand for jobs is greater than supply and the result is pretty gloomy.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are some things employers can do when it comes to helping their employees with this work-life balance.
By creating a workplace environment which promotes the importance of a good work-life balance your employees will feel comfortable to openly discuss the pressures of their job, and whether being more flexible at work is something they would fine beneficial or like. It’s important to clarify what flexible working means and the boundaries of this flexibility so everyone understands the benefits as well as the limitations. When flexible working is clearly communicated to everyone they know what must be achieved in a normal day/shift, the limitations of what they can and cannot do, and the benefits to both company and individual become clearer. The work target gets completed, and people have more control over how this is achieved.
And what about Health and Safety Regulations?
If someone is working from home, does their home become their workplace and if so does this then require the employer to provide and pay for their furniture, electrical installations/ equipment tests, and all the other paraphernalia that allegedly goes with compliance with health and safety legislation? This issue is probably big enough for another blog itself (so watch this space for more discussion on this), but the short answer is that there are two types of home worker: the first is the person who works from home periodically because of convenience/occasional domestic issues etc, and the other is the home worker whose home-working arrangements are formally agreed in writing, eg via their Contract of Employment, or formal separate agreement.
There is clearly a bigger duty of care on the latter type of worker and a policy needed that mentions home workers. But from many years of experience in dealing with home worker issues, don’t under-estimate the problems that can occur with employees’ health and safety if their home-working arrangements are not suitable. This relate particularly to musculo-skeletal problems (back, wrist and neck ache etc), that can result from employees sitting and working in completely unsuitable conditions.
Can you trust your employees enough?
It’s important to show that you trust your employees to work within the boundaries set, and to give them a chance at this new method of working. They also need to know, though, the consequences if they are found to not keeping to the agreement or getting the work done.
Employers should link flexible working with their health and safety policies and management system as well as with their HR protocols. If these can be integrated, then all the better.
So an integrated approach saves time and trouble?
An integrated approach to this will avoid duplication and potential confusion when delivering the message. This is where development of management systems that are aligned with international standards such as ISO 9001 and OHSAS 18001 come into useful effect. Whilst this might sound daunting or bureaucratic, when guided or assisted by professionals who have significant experience in integrating management systems to these standards, the task becomes much quicker and easier. And there are added benefits by promoting these standards to potential customers.
Engage and empower your employees
Engaged employees as stated by Pointon (2014) is ‘the degree of an employee’s positive or negative emotional attachment to their job, colleagues and organisation, which profoundly influences their job satisfaction and their willingness to learn and perform at work’.
Engaged employees have a sense of feeling valued, a belief that they have an opportunity to develop, and most importantly, a belief that the organisation is concerned for their health and mental and emotional well-being. With this being said employers should encourage a culture of openness in their workplace as this allows employees to feel more valued, understood and heard. By encouraging this openness employees will feel comfortable enough to discuss the challenges of the job and if they feel the demands on them are too great. If your employees come into work exhausted and stressed by the battle to get there, their subsequent performance and motivation will reduce. With demotivated employees comes slack work, more mistakes and less work completed, and this progresses into unhappy employers and an unhappy company morale.
Trick or treat?
So perhaps the trick is to consider which job roles can be completed at home fully or partly and to ensure there are systems in place to make this successful for both parties. The treat will come when those employees who start working from home find improvement in their work/life balance and their general health as a result. The treat for the employer could well result in improved performance rather than reduced, and reduced absenteeism or better staff retention. And remember, if you find this daunting to set up there is plenty of advice available from professionals who have set up such arrangements before, and can help you avoid potential pitfalls. So you don’t need to feel tricked either.