Blurring The Work-Life Balance
Published on 08 October, 2021 | Katie Welton-Dillon
That the last 18 months have brought about tremendous changes to our home and work lives will come as no surprise to anyone.
In particular, measures to control the spread of coronavirus have prompted a necessary increase in the number of people working from home.
Not too long ago, it was a sign of flexibility rather than necessity. Now, however, it has become an accepted part of business practice.
A recent study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that one-third of people who are currently home-working expect to spend the majority of their working week doing so for the foreseeable future (https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/businessandindividualattitudestowardsthefutureofhomeworkinguk/apriltomay2021).
On the face of it, the ability to work from home has a number of positives for families, not least spending more time together.
There are also potential problems, though, as highlighted by a recent review in the Financial Times of a new book (‘Four Thousand Weeks’ by the journalist Oliver Burkeman), which warns of a drift to a “continuous working week”.
Whilst working from home has become more frequent, the issues which it presents for the family are nothing new.
A 2017 study by Eurofund, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, found that the benefits of home-working were “highly ambiguous” and led to the “blurring of work–life boundaries” (https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/publications/report/2017/working-anytime-anywhere-the-effects-on-the-world-of-work#tab-01).
The pre-Covid separation of home and office arguably provided something of a break between responsibilities both to one’s family and one’s employer, an arrangement which has been largely dismantled by lockdown working patterns.
If we add the complication of parents juggling countless video calls and home-schooling, the possibilities for tension only increase.
Even before the world was hit by the coronavirus pandemic, complaints about work were a regular feature of our caseload.
For example, we dealt with many husbands and wives complaining that their partners were spending too much time at the office and not enough contributing to their duties at home.
Since lockdown, we have also seen men and women arguing that their other half’s workload at home seems more important than attending to their role as a spouse or parent.
Two years ago, the Chartered Institute for Personal Development (CIPD) identified that an inadequate balance between the two created stress at home (https://www.cipd.co.uk/about/media/press/poor-work-life-balance#gref).
The difficulties can be financial and professional as well as personal. A column in The Times in recent weeks has quoted Government data suggesting that home-workers were less likely to secure a promotion than colleagues who worked in an office (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/88fedfb2-0ca0-11ec-9503-f24d9e0411ae?shareToken=fc8b568d585cf29c443dd8b917729595).
With home-working likely to play a part in the UK economy for some time to come, there is a need for couples to find ways of coping with how it impacts on their households.
I should point out that the problem is not solely one for employees to resolve.
Employers too perhaps need to consider such issues in order to address both the well-being and productivity of their employees and ensure that the line between work and home life (particularly in relation to hours worked) doesn’t become blurred.
Since the start of lockdown and with many staff working remotely, it’s something which Hall Brown has been very much alive to.
We have invested great time and effort in trying to find the right solution and provide the right level of professional and personal support for colleagues.
There has always been a close relationship between what happens in the office and the family, much more than the common, old grievance about someone “bringing their work home”.
As working patterns have had to adapt to the so-called ‘new normal’, so too has family life.
Thought about how the two mesh together from now on is needed to limit the impact on homes.