The impact of a work-life balance on mental wellbeing
20th January 2020
As we start a new year and new decade, many people will be assessing their lives and looking at what changes to make for the better. One of the biggest challenges faced by work-age people in modern society is creating a good work-life balance.
The UK Working Lives 2019 report by The CIPD (The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) which is the professional body for experts in people at work, shows that UK workers have a poor work-life balance. Based on a measure of how often job demands interfere with family life, the UK ranks 24th out of 25 comparator economies globally. Three in five employees work longer hours than they would like to, taking into account their need to make a living.
The CIPD report revealed that, on average, UK workers give an additional three hours and 45 minutes to their work every week outside of their contractual hours. Almost a fifth of people work between five and 10 hours extra every week; 10 per cent work between 10 and 15 hours extra a week; and 14 per cent work an additional 15 extra hours every week.
The report states that the UK has been praised for its ‘jobs miracle’, growing employment levels as it recovers from the global recession and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. However, it adds: “A simple view of employment or unemployment levels is not an adequate gauge of the health of a country’s labour market, or the well-being of its workforce.”
Of course, high employment levels are something to celebrate, however if a large proportion of workers aren’t happy in their jobs then this is something that needs to be improved in order to create a healthy workforce.
A BMJ research report which analysed data from a UK study of 11,215 men and 12,188 women in employment or self-employment showed that working long hours and at weekends led to increased depression in both men and women. The worrying findings showed that women displayed increased depressive symptoms when working extra-long hours; and working weekends was linked with increased depressive symptoms for both genders, suggesting these working patterns may contribute to worse mental health.
It said: “Globalised and 24/7 business operations have fuelled demands for people to work long hours and weekends. Research on the mental health effects of these intensive temporal work patterns is sparse, contradictory or has not considered gender differences.”
It added: “In the UK, there are concerns about unregulated and frequently unpaid overtime, and work-related stress, often linked to workload, accounts for millions of lost working days every year. Despite this, other than studies on shift work, few epidemiological studies have considered the impact of temporal work patterns on mental health.”
In conclusion, the report said: “Our findings should encourage employers and policymakers to consider interventions aimed at reducing women’s burdens without restricting their full participation in the workforce, and at improving psychosocial work conditions.”
Flexible working has been highlighted as a measure which could support a better work-life balance for many. However, CIPD warns that flexible working practices are positive for some people but not for others. It states: “We see a lack of equality in access to flexible working and clear gender differences in their usage. These insights can help us address some of the cultural, behavioural and practical barriers to wider uptake.”
More than half of UK employees (55%) worked flexibly in some way last year (excluding the self-employed). This included flexi-time, reduced hours and working from home. Informal flexibility was also common, with two-thirds of employees able to easily take an hour or two off during working hours for personal or family matters. The CIPD report showed that flexible working arrangements were used by women mainly for caring responsibilities, and by men for increased leisure time. This was shown to “contribute substantially to people’s quality of life”.
However, 21% of UK employees has no flexible working arrangements, and 68% would like to work flexibly in at least one form that is not currently available to them.
The report found a lack of equality in access to flexible working, with women – especially those aged 35 to 44 – along with workers with a disability, more likely to use flexible work arrangements. It found that men are more likely to work from home. Flexible working was found to be more common in higher-grade jobs and those who are able to decide how they work and what they do.
There were differences in the outcomes of flexible working arrangements, with a reduction in hours more likely to impact on a person’s career, and homeworkers more likely to overwork. Women’s careers, in particular, are more likely to suffer from flexible working than men’s.
However, it concluded: “The benefits to quality of life are far more common than any cost to career progression.”
The survey also looked at other aspects of a good work-life balance, including pay and benefits; contracts and the terms of employment; job design and the nature of work; relationships at work; voice and representation; and health and well-being.
The report said: “The UK Working Lives survey is central to the CIPD’s purpose, to champion better work and working lives by improving practices in people and organisation development for the benefit of individuals, the economy and society.”
If you’re looking to introduce flexible working this year, there are various measures that can be adopted to benefit both business and staff. This could be a hot-desk arrangement or even relocating to a different office to reduce space, if your entire workforce no longer needs to be in at the same time every day.
At MovePlan, our experts assist businesses with various changes including workplace strategies and relocations. A fresh start in a new workspace or environment to better suit your business needs can have a positive impact on staff, if it’s handled correctly, which is where we can help.
So, as we look ahead in 2020, responsible employers should be considering how to improve the mental wellbeing of their workforce, taking into consideration recent studies and findings. Research suggests that there might not be one solution which fits all. That’s why it is vital to consider employees’ individual wants and needs.