How to tackle the issue of ‘anytime working’

Advice and top tips

How to tackle the issue of ‘anytime working’

The world of business has changed dramatically in the past two years, with the restrictions brought in by the pandemic reshaping and redefining the standard working model.

The mass office exodus was a cause for concern initially but many companies quickly learned that their employees were able to effectively adapt to flexible, home-based working arrangements.

The advent of advanced technology greatly facilitated this move and the success of the transition has led many companies to make this new way of working permanent.

According to Willis Towers Watson’s Benefits Trends Survey 2021 (BTS 2021), companies expect just 37 per cent of their employees to be based onsite in the future, compared to 82 per cent two years ago.

Survey respondents said they expect 41 per cent of workers to operate under a hybrid working model in the next two years, whilst 21 per cent would be based remotely.

Whilst a greater deal of flexibility has its advantages for both employers and employees, it has come with an unwelcome bi-product.

According to ADP Research Institute’s People at Work 2021, unpaid overtime has jumped sharply in the pandemic to 9.2 hours per week on average, up from 7.3 just a year ago.

One in 10 workers (10 per cent) are now working in excess of 20 hours per week for free. Those working from home estimate they are putting in more unpaid overtime than those based in the workplace or on-site (9.4 hours compared to 8.7 hours). But those adopting a hybrid model of home and on-site working believe they are doing the most of all, at 9.8 hours.

Technology has proved a pivotal business facilitator, and in some cases saviour, during the pandemic, but it has also acted as a catalyst for a culture of ‘anytime working’, and has accelerated the trend of ‘work-life integration’.

While the negative impact of this trend on employees is writ large in the unpaid overtime statistics, it can also be viewed through a positive lens.

Working from home means eradicating the stressful and unproductive commute to the office, which can be beneficial to our mental and physical health.

Furthermore, by adopting a best practice approach, employees can still maintain clear boundaries between their home and work life, while enjoying greater freedoms to undertake work tasks at times that best suit them.

Here, we look at ways that companies can push the reset button and help employees to establish those all-important work-life boundaries.

Practice what you preach

With the lines between work and downtime blurred and emails, calls and texts always just a click away, it can be hard for employees to switch off.

Overworking is not sustainable and can be detrimental to employee health in the long-term, as well as resulting in lost productivity.

Business leaders can play a key role by setting an example for the rest of their workforce, establishing and reinforcing a balanced working life culture for their organisation.

If managers are seen to be committed to their own wellbeing, from taking regular breaks to adopting a healthy approach to sending, reading and replying to work emails out of hours, they are making it acceptable for others to behave in a similar way and are setting a benchmark for self-care for the workforce.

But managers must ensure that they are not just paying ‘lip-service’ to health and wellbeing.

Those who champion wellbeing whilst putting unrealistic demands and pressures on the workforce will send a message that their concern is not authentic.

Companies can help managers by encouraging them to refrain from contacting employees outside of working hours.

They can also provide training to managers, so that they are equipped to set reasonable expectations for their employees, spot the early signs of overworking or burnout, build meaningful and valuable relationships, and initiate clearly defined and timely remedial actions if employees are struggling, such as changing working patterns or making workload adjustments.

Challenge the culture

Limited visibility can exacerbate ‘anytime working’ as colleagues may feel added pressure to perform. The absence of a co-working environment can result in employees losing sight of realistic working tasks or attempting to take on more to demonstrate their worth.

Importantly, employers need to find imaginative methods of assessing employee performance that are not perceived as judgemental.

Fear of judgement can hold employees back from making decisions that would have a positive impact on their wellbeing.

Willis Towers Watson’s pre-pandemic Health and Benefits Barometer research found that 41 per cent of workers harboured resentment towards people who work flexibly due to family commitments.

This is despite the fact that 42 per cent of respondents claimed flexible working would have a positive impact on their health and wellbeing.

Similarly, more than half (53 per cent) of workers reported a sense of resentment towards colleagues who took breaks to smoke or vape. Two thirds (64 per cent) of non-smokers and non-vapers don’t take regular breaks, with fear of being judged by colleagues and managers among the reasons why.

However, 52 per cent of workers believe that taking regular breaks would improve their wellbeing and 55 per cent said it would improve productivity.

Even though there is a clear recognition that flexible working and regular breaks would improve wellbeing, the perceived resentment towards those who do so results in a widespread reticence.

Companies should seek to break this harmful cycle by fostering a sense of shared commitment to finding balance and optimal health and wellbeing – for all employees.

Communications should be inclusive, such as outlining that flexible working options are not confined to those with family commitments and invite anyone who is struggling with working hours to speak to managers about workload.

In the case of breaks, companies could issue regular communications about the importance of breaks for mental endurance and emotional resilience.
Bringing such issues in the open and providing compassionate solutions will underline the company’s commitment to worker wellbeing, which will filter down through the ranks and challenge feelings of resentment.

Focus on self-care

According to BTS 2021, 81 per cent of companies are concerned about stress, burnout and mental health issues among their employees, making it the number one concern for businesses.

The danger of blurred work-life boundaries and intensive tech usage ushered in by the changing business landscape has risked amplifying these established workplace issues.

Whilst technology can compound ‘anytime working’ however, it can also be leveraged for its positive effects.

Apps, for example, are available to help employees switch off and unwind after a day’s work.

It is also important to encourage employees to take a step back from technology and find pleasure and relaxation in non-tech orientated hobbies. Companies can encourage participation by subsidising hobbies or gym memberships.

During work hours, companies may also wish to encourage restorative break time. This can be in the form of emailers outlining top five meditative practices or top five office exercises to do in your break.

These simple measures will help keep breaks and downtime at the forefront of employees’ minds and allay concerns about being negatively judged for taking time out or switching off.

Employers, however, should be mindful of the risks of information overload.

For those employees that are offered a wealth of benefit options and health and wellbeing advice, supplementary guidance may be needed to help them navigate the firehose of support.

Benefits platforms are now available, for example, with in-built tools that can help to educate and direct employees, enabling them to make more informed decisions, based on their personal circumstances.

Reaping the benefits

A commitment to work is often lauded by companies but there is a fine line between dedication and burnout.

A consistent lack of self-care and tipping the work-life balance can fuel heightened stress levels, unhealthy lifestyles and employee burnout, which, cumulatively, have a profound effect on worker wellbeing, job performance, morale and retention.

In order to make a meaningful difference, businesses need to ensure self-care and that boundaries become an integral part of the working culture, supported by wellbeing programmes that promote balance and encourage healthy behaviours.

As part of this process, a regular ‘temperature check’ of the health and wellbeing of a workforce is recommended, including monitoring and measuring the success of wellbeing initiatives and interventions to ensure positive outcomes.

This can be undertaken using not only employee surveys, but via dedicated focus group forums and through the analysis of health intelligence, such as sickness absence and medical claims data. Specialist consultancy services to advise and help establish a sympathetic wellness roadmap should be sought where business lack the requisite in-house expertise or resources.

By adopting such a best practice approach, businesses will not only benefit from a healthier and more productive workforce, but gain a reputation for being a conscientious and caring employer.