Work-life balance is still the holy grail for British workers

Work-life balance is still the holy grail for British workers

With Richard Branson announcing back in the Autumn that his private staff can take as much holiday as they like when they like and the Institute of Directors, which represents employers, reacting by stating “Where Branson goes, people will follow”, is the work-life balance still as unattainable as British workers perceive?

The culture of long hours, ‘lunch breaks are for wimps’ and high end status symbols as a reflection of success that became the norm in the 80’s are definitely not de rigeur in the commercial world of 2014. Instead, recent research shows that the majority of those working today have woken up to the fact that money doesn’t buy happiness, a healthy lifestyle or job satisfaction either.

In fact, almost a third of Brits believe that a good work/life balance and home life is the single most important factor in leading a successful life, according to the research by Crowne Plaza.

This research is part of a wider report called “Evaluating success: placing a value on values” which also discovered that only 10% of respondents believe salary is the most important factor in leading a successful life. The results suggest that in 2014, only 1.8 per cent consider owning an expensive car to be a sign of success, compared to 20% in 1989, while a further 27% aren’t concerned with evaluating their own success or that of others at all. The standards set by the materially-focused 80s have been dropped as the idea of power dressing was also rejected by 65% of those surveyed. Eight in ten stated that the way someone dresses could never signify success.

69% believe that flexible working hours and remote working are essential to professional success and 70% reject the notion that there is any correlation between working longer hours and getting ahead at work. Instead, sleep (72%), quality time with friends and family (42%) and regular exercise and healthy food (38%) form the top three factors which enable British workers to stay on top of their game.

The flip side to this is that, although the working week is officially limited to 48 hours, the UK has opted out of the European Working Time Directive, which means that some employees may work more hours by written consent. So it’s not unsurprising that the two most frequent concerns amongst UK employees are still long hours and the intensity of work. In fact, many employees say they are working as hard as they can and could not imagine being able to work any harder. All these factors contribute to awareness of work-life balance as a pressing issue and how work demands often stand in the way of personal commitments.

However, while the British workforce are increasingly aware of the need to attain a good work-life balance, the dynamic nature of the UK economy and fast-paced profit motivated business environment forces many employees to stick with the long hours culture of the 80’s. For many professionals, technological developments have freed them up to work from home but the 24/7 availability this has introduced represents a complete loss of privacy and downtime which has a negative impact on the work/life balance which it is designed to instil.

UK organisations are however, becoming ever more aware of the business case for a positive work-life balance and many of them are implementing policies intended to reduce the pressure of work commitments on private life. The current thinking is that an improved work-life balance has a positive impact on all concerned – the organisation, the individual and the customer. With the introduction of the right to request flexible working at the end of June, even more focus has been placed on the quest for work-life balance for British workers too.

​However, if it’s taken well over 20 years to get to this stage, will it be almost the mid 21st century before a good work/life balance truly is the cultural norm in the UK?