The concept of work-life balance has dominated employee engagement strategies over the past few years. The challenges associated with trying to achieve this balance are well documented and often bring additional pressure for employees trying to achieve equilibrium between the two sides, which suggests that they can successfully be kept separate.
However, home working during the pandemic has required a ‘work-life blend’ that many are saying is a more flexible way of enabling employees to juggle the different elements in their lives. Here we outline the trend that is gaining traction in discussions around the ‘new normal’ post-pandemic, alongside other steps taken by employers to define the future working hours and environment they will offer.
Cultural readjustment to the new normal
Enforced remote working has had a profound impact on employees and will continue to shape each organisation going forward. In March the focus was on rolling out working from home for all employees who were office-based. A strong communications strategy was critical for managing remote working in exceptional circumstances. As people start to return to the office, there is now a risk that the approach to communications reverts back in cases where a strong strategy was not in place before lockdown and the senior team were made to implement a crisis communications strategy to ramp up employee engagement and support.
Long-term mental health awareness
It is important for employers to bear in mind that the after-effects from the pandemic may be felt further down the line. Now is not the time to lessen internal communications in spite of many returning to the office. Employers have had to make the best of remote working under exceptional circumstances, but with offices reopening, there is the risk that this support may now be withdrawn as employers move the focus onto recovery.
However, employees’ mental health should be a key part of this focus on recovery, with the long-term individual impact needing to be closely monitored. Strong communications can help to keep employees feeling connected by being aware of what’s going on organisation-wide. Even more importantly with regards to employee wellbeing, they is an opportunity to reinforce the support employers can offer, ensuring that employees are eased back into new ways of working.
A retreat from remote working?
Losing momentum behind a strong communications strategy is also accompanied by the risk that employers may equally want to move away from remote working in the long-term. Employers don’t have to make it work further down the line if they want their workforce in the office. However, HR will have to find a way of making the organisation attractive and bolster their employee value proposition if the vast majority of people want flexibility as a result of this period.
Many employees have reported the benefits to their wellbeing including reduced commuting and travelling to meetings being replaced by virtual meetings. There is a careful balance to be struck by the employer when defining working arrangements going forward. Employee pulse surveys can really help to make informed decisions about the best way to maintain employee engagement during this transition period, with employees directly being consulted about how they work most productively and the lessons they have learnt from the pandemic.
A work-life blend
We anticipate a shift in gears from a focus on ‘Work-life balance’ to a ‘Work-life blend’ for employees as a result of lockdown. Working from home and juggling childcare when nurseries and schools have been closed has been an unprecedented challenge for people where balance has rarely been achievable. The concept of a blend is where the focus is about people managing their responsibilities so that they can meet home and work obligations in hours they define themselves, giving them more control.
Working later to compensate for clocking off early has become the new normal for many parents over this period. Other employees have also fed back to employers that this is a more natural approach to fulfilling multiple obligations to work and home-life. The employee is put in control of their working hours and has more autonomy over how they fulfill their work, driving satisfaction for many who are able to prioritise as opposed to trying to compartmentalise each area of their life.
Preparing employees for the ‘new normal’
Many employers are stressing the importance of adequately preparing employees for a return to the office after such a long period of working remotely. Employer feedback in our HR Groups is that they are planning a very limited return to work at this stage, with just one to two days a week. Employers are recognising what they have referred to as ‘psychological glue’: the emotional attachment that employees have with the office. These spaces are often the next most connected thing in people’s lives after their actual home given how much time employees spend there.
Some employers have created videos to explain the new one-way system throughout offices and the precautions they are taking. These have been filmed to reassure people returning to the office and HR have reported that some individuals have been upset when they see these. For many, it is the realisation that it won’t be the same office as the place they left. Whilst some employees are undoubtedly keen to go back and regain some level of normality, others may also unfortunately experience an unpleasant home environment, which makes a return to the office even more sought after. From a wellbeing perspective, an office offers continuity required by humans, which is a huge factor in mental health as people value the reassurance of their office environment and work culture.
A focus on the individual
As 12 per cent predict pay freezes and pay awards predominantly return to cautious levels, lower pay budgets will force employers to think innovatively about how to differentiate their reward and benefits packages and offer meaningful value to employees. Flexible hours and ways of working, including flexible shifts, have been a benefit themselves over recent years for employees, in addition to benefits focused on the priorities of individual employees. More of a focus has been placed on making defined periods of leave available for those wishing to adopt, welcome new pets, take a sabbatical – a much broader spectrum of life events beyond traditional parental leave. Carer responsibilities have been acknowledged by a growing number of businesses, widening the system of benefits to accommodate people’s varied priorities along their journey as an employee.
The focus has shifted to cultivating an environment that promotes the quality of the output of each individual, as opposed to purely focusing on clocked hours, which can drive presenteeism. Giving employees more control over their time boosts not only satisfaction, but productivity. For instance, by not banning social media and phones in the office, and overcoming fears around procrastination, this gives employees more trust, strengthening the employee-employer relationship. Empowering people to make decisions that fit with their lifestyle and preferences is a setup that works for everyone and can drive productivity in the long-term.
Get in touch
Let us know if we can help you gather employee feedback and direct insights into motivation and productivity across your organisation. As businesses feel their way out of lockdown, how employees feel about work and their environment will be critical – we’re here to discuss how we can frame your strategy around a ‘work-life blend’.