Flexible working is one of the biggest changes to the UK corporate culture in the last decade. The idea of flexible working giving employees a better work-life balance, but we are now being told by experts that it might not be as good for employees as it first seemed.
Experts believe that flexible hours can have a heavy toll on the mental health of an employee. It can isolate employees from social networks, a risk of poor working conditions, and create resentment among colleagues, while the blurring of lines between work and home life can become stressful for certain individuals.
Professor Gail Kinman, an occupational health psychologist from the University of Bedfordshire, told the Guardian that flexible working can cause insomnia, alcohol dependency and comfort eating.
An “always on” culture can mean workers lose out on time to exercise and cook healthy meals, too.
“You might sleep, but you don’t sleep properly, the effectiveness of your immune system reduces. There are studies that suggest people want a quick way to relax, which is when they tend to drink alcohol and might turn to comfort food.”
“There’s evidence that employees use their flexibility to actually work longer and harder,” she says. “People might say: ‘Well, I don’t have to clock in at nine and finish at five, I can sit here and I can really show that I’m deserving of this honour of being allowed to work flexibly’.
“In some places there’s a culture of one–up man ship, that “I send out emails on Saturday morning” attitude,” says Kinman. “Now it’s all very well to say that it’s up to the recipient to manage that, it’s their fault because they shouldn’t be reading their emails at 11am on a Saturday morning. But if you’re senior and you’re doing something like that your staff are going to think that this is the way to get on in the organisation. In reality, what you really need to do is help employees develop sustainable ways of dealing with technology. “
Companies have responded by recently undergoing experiments by shutting down emails out of working hours or shortening the working day, for example Atos shuts down its servers between Christmas and New Year and Volkswagen putting its server out of commission come 4pm. With so many negative issues surrounding Flexible working, the main responsibility for Managers is to manage their staff’s flexible working correctly.
To make flexible work successful, Managers should:
- Be aware of relevant legislation, standards and agreements that may influence decision-making
- Incorporate flexible work options into team planning to ensure workloads are managed and the team remains supportive and cohesive while implementing these arrangements
- Document and regularly review flexible work arrangements to ensure continuing benefit to all parties involved
- Model a healthy work-life balance as much as possible — employees often follow the work style of their immediate manager.
Employees need to:
- Develop a proposal for flexible work arrangements that addresses the needs of the business unit and the impact the arrangements may have.
- Get in the work mind set. Get dressed, or do whatever you need to do so you know that today is a ‘work’ day.
- Have a break.
- Make time to phone or Skype colleagues so you stay in the loop and don’t feel isolated.