Flexible/agile working and never switching off
  • Cipd
  • IP
  • St Andrews Business Club
Flexible/agile working and never switching off
  • Cipd
  • IP
  • St Andrews Business Club
Flexible/agile working and never switching off
25 August 2017

How well do you sleep?   Do you have trouble switching off?  Do you find yourself checking emails in the evenings in between working days or checking out your LinkedIn messages? 

With the ever-increasing rise in portable technology, the ability to work wherever we find ourselves is becoming easier for us all.  Perhaps it’s not surprising therefore that, according to a report last year from Deloitte, the UK is addicted to smartphones.  One in three adults check for messages at night and admits that their overuse of smartphones causes rows with their loved ones.  As part of the extended workplace, such technology can make it even more difficult to switch off and this brings additional stressors which all employers should be aware of.

According to Deloitte’s findings, there are numerous symptoms.  Do you recognise yourself?

  • Do you ever argue with your partner about them using their mobile too much?
  • Do you “always” or “very often” use your smartphone when eating at home or in restaurants?
  • Do you regularly use your device while with friends or watching TV?
  • Do you find yourself reaching for your phone in the middle of the night to check your emails, instant messaging, or social media?
  • Do you reach for your phone as soon as you wake up?

Working flexibly – or agile working – undoubtedly can save money on, say, commuting costs, and can make us more efficient and focussed giving us a better work-life balance, but equally employers should be mindful of the additional burden that this technology can bring us by enabling us to work whilst watching TV, or checking emails and updates in bed. 

All employees with 26 weeks service with the same employer have the statutory right to request to work flexibly and this may include home working or more agile working.  It has been proven via many research papers that such flexible working can help create higher employee engagement and retention in the workplace which will become increasingly important as employers face a battle for talent in the workforce.

It is important to consider however that flexible working does not suit all roles, and perhaps will not suit all personality types.  For example, some people would find it too isolating working from home all the time and might find it difficult to focus on job tasks when the dog needs walking or friends are coming over later and the house needs cleaning!

Managers can certainly play their part in demonstrating appropriate switching on/off behaviours at work and thereby discourage presenteeism e.g. staying until 6pm just to make it look like everyone is working hard.  Also, managers sending emails out at 11pm does not send the right message in terms of work/life balance and can put pressure on other managers and staff to conform with this behaviour which isn’t in anyone’s interests.  In France, employers of over 50 staff are now legally obliged to consult on ways staff can disconnect from work and ignore their smartphones to ensure employees can switch off.

Things to think about are:

  1. Being clear about agile workers working hours – discuss this as part of the arrangement and be clear to reinforce this message ensuring that the member of staff isn’t being encouraged either overtly or covertly, to work overly long hours.
  2. Be aware of the ease at which technology can be accessed and encourage staff to raise concerns if they feel they are stressed at work or feeling anxious because they are becoming increasingly unable to switch off from work.
  3. Encourage managers to be aware of the behaviours that they role model to others within their team. This can be discussed in regular one-to-one meetings between managers and their staff in all tiers of the organisation to ensure such behaviours are challenged appropriately and stopped.  The culture of the workplace can contribute to maintaining expectations and standards which, in turn, can have an impact on creating a safe and strong work environment.

Not being able to switch off from work can lead to overload and stress, therefore it is important that we encourage our staff to have some rest and relaxation in between work rather than impeding on this time which has an impact, not only on us, but also those we live with!

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