Finding the balance

What is work life balance?  Just like ‘wellbeing’ it is an imprecise term that means different things to different people.  It’s a phrase that not everyone likes, as it brings with it the implication that work and life are two separate elements rather than interconnected aspects of who we are.  Here at the Work Consultancy we work on the basis that everything is connected.  Work life balance, and indeed wellbeing, is about our whole self, and that is how we approach all of our coaching and training.  

One way to thinking about work life balance is the idea of finding an equilibrium between our work and our home lives, one that works for us and our own particular contexts and circumstances. 

Work life balance is hard to define…. but we know it when we see it and when we feel it.

Maintaining a balance between competing aspects of our lives isn’t always easy.  There are times when the stuff will pile up and this impacts upon our resilience levels.  In our connected world with technology in our pockets, the lines between work and home are ever blurred, and there will be times too, where our work and our home lives are in direct conflict. 

There is much that can influence our own individual sense of balance.  Long working hours, technology, domestic labour, family pressures, ill-health, financial worries, commuting – and there is no one solution to the challenge of finding balance.  One size only fits one.  We each have to define work life balance for ourselves and understand how best we can achieve it. 

What does work life balance mean to you?

How in balance do you feel right now? 

What can you do to improve it? 

We deliver a range of workshops on wellbeing, including a workshop on understanding and achieving work life balance as well as 121 wellbeing coaching.  If you’d like to discuss your needs, get in touch! 

Wellbeing in the workplace – where are you now?

Wellbeing interventions in the workplace are generally defined as being of a primary, secondary or tertiary nature.

Primary interventions aim to prevent work related stress or wellbeing issues from arising.  They address problems at source. These interventions will be strategic, systemic, structural.  Examples of primary interventions include job design, working patterns, leadership development or resource allocation models.  Primary interventions can design wellbeing into the fabric of work and the workplace.  The responsibility for wellbeing is placed upon the organisation and its leaders. 

Secondary interventions are about helping people to cope with challenges and health promotion. It includes resilience training, mindfulness classes, fitness and coaching.  Tertiary interventions support people who are already unwell or in a crisis situation and includes occupational health, EAPs and counselling services.  Both secondary and tertiary initiatives primarily address symptoms.  They focus on and place the responsibility for wellbeing on the individual.

Primary interventions are proactive.  Secondary and tertiary interventions are reactive.  Research suggests that primary interventions are more effective the secondary and secondary is more effective than tertiary.  

Primary action is where the magic happens.  It tackles the big issues… but it is also the difficult stuff, and much more difficult than handing out free fruit or offering some desk based massage.  

It has become increasing common to see criticisms of organisations for operating only in the secondary and tertiary spaces.  It gives rise to suggestions of care-washing – there to look good rather than really make a difference.  But there can be real value in the secondary and tertiary too.  Intervention in these spaces can support culture change, give permission to employees to engage and create conversations.  They can provide people with valuable skills and information, and nudge them to work with wellbeing in mind.

To be truly effective, a wellbeing strategy needs to include all three types of interventions. This is where real change will be felt because together they address both the source of any negative impact on wellbeing as well as the consequences.  They have a complimentary effect – all three together is an optimal position. 

So…..

Where is your organisational wellbeing offering right now– is it primary, secondary or tertiary?

And how can you ensure you are engaging in all three spaces?

Domestic Abuse Policy

We believe that there are some policies and guidance that every organisation should have.  One of these is a statement about domestic abuse.  Domestic abuse is experienced by one in four women and one in six men at some point in their lifetime. It is therefore very likely that all workplaces will have employees that have experienced or are experiencing some form of domestic abuse – whether or not you are aware of it. 

If you don’t have a policy or guidance on domestic abuse, you can download our template policy for free.  You don’t even have to give us your email address.  Just amend it with your own branding and company details.  By having a policy and communicating it effectively, you are sending a message to any employee who is experiencing abuse that they can come to you for help if they need it. 

Download our policy template in Microsoft Word format here

Wellbeing that works

When we talk about wellbeing we don’t always mean the same thing.

For some it is about fitness. For others it’s about mental health.  For others, it is simply about physical health (the absence of disease).

There are so many lenses through which we can view a topic as broad as this; physical, psychological, nutritional, financial, social.

The World Health Organisation defines wellbeing as: Wellbeing is where each individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community. 

Other ideas about wellbeing talk of thriving, flourishing or being your best self.  Some talk simply of happiness. 

When it comes to wellbeing in the workplace, different perspectives are taken.  Some organisations focus on managing absence and ill-health.  Others want to improve wellbeing to increase productivity.  Others consider it as part of their employer brand or corporate social responsibility.  

Whatever the overall aim or approach, there are three parties in the workplace wellbeing relationship; employees, managers and the organisation itself. 

The organisation is responsible for the strategy, plan, culture and resources.

The manager is responsible for enabling wellbeing within their own team, having wellbeing conversations, tackling behaviour likely to negatively impact upon wellbeing – as well as doing the managing ill-health stuff. 

The individual employee is responsible for their own wellbeing and what they choose to do to support it.

For wellbeing in the workplace to really deliver, all three roles need to be considered and addressed.

·         The development by the organisation of an overall strategy for employee wellbeing, with an operational plan to deliver it and budgets and resources allocated.

·         Managers trained in their role within wellbeing, capable of spotting the signs that something is wrong, able to have effective wellbeing conversations and understand how their role is capable of enabling or negatively impacting the wellbeing of others.

·         Both manager and organisation can provide permission – they can influence the organisational culture. 

·         Finally, employees who are enabled to focus on their wellbeing, can maximise the offering of the organisation and can raise areas of concern without fear. 

An approach that fails to take into account all three parties to wellbeing at work, won’t work.  You may be able to make small improvements but they will not have the potential impact of a holistic approach.   

For wellbeing that works, all three players must part of the game.

Small Numbers; Big Impact

There are some employment policies that don’t have a big impact.  Not in terms of numbers of employees impacted, at least.

But to a small handful of people, these policies make all the difference in the world. 

Let me give you a few examples:

Fertility Treatment Policies. 

Domestic Violence Policies. 

Premature Birth. 

Cancer.  

Menopause.

Carers. 

Even if you employ hundreds of people, these policies might only see the light of day every once in a while.  A few times a year perhaps. 

You can get by without them.  Deal with these situations as and when they arise.  Do what feels like the right thing to do as and when.  It’s doubtful that an employment tribunal will criticise you.  There’s no ACAS Code of Practice to fall foul of. 

There’s often a desire not to have too many policies.  Let’s face it, in most organisations there’s often already plenty to read and keep up to date with. 

But there are reasons to have these policies all the same.  Some of your employees won’t ask questions or raise an issue for a whole variety of reasons from being embarrassed to worry about stigma or implications for their career.  Knowing that you have a policy gives them permission to do so.  Having a policy also gives your managers a framework within which to work; it gives them clarity on what to do when challenging issues arise.  Having a policy can provide information to your people at what could be some of the most difficult times of their lives.  These policies also set a tone for those that never need to use them: that your organisation cares. 

Like any policy, they don’t have to be long or overly complex. You don’t need to get people to sign them.  You don’t have to cover everyone in your induction or your company handbook. You can just have them, let people know that they are there if they need them, use them when you have to.

Small policy changes, small numbers of employees…….but big impact. 

PS. We write these sort of policies.  Just ask us for help. 

Candidate Experience – what, why, how?

Remember the saying that you only have one opportunity to make a first impression? Your recruitment process is your first impression. The candidate experience is everything that happens between a potential new recruit engaging with your organisation in a way that leads to them becoming a candidate (most often, seeing a job advertisement) through to the conclusion of the process. For some, this might be the day that they join your organisation as an employee. For others, it will be the point at which you conclude their application with a thank you but no thanks communication. 

Candidate experience includes your employer brand; the external perception of your organisation as a place to work. It encompasses all of the processes, from application forms to psychometric tests to the interview itself. Each and every communication and interaction. At its most simple, candidate experience is the way that you make people feel during recruitment and selection. 

Why is candidate experience so important? There are several reasons. 

Firstly, candidate experience is about your company reputation. In an age of increasing transparency, candidates, successful or otherwise, will share their experiences on review sites, or simply talk about it on social media. Today, most candidates don’t just respond to a job advert and then head off to an interview when offered. They will peruse employer review sites, they will check out the social media feeds – they will do their research way beyond the corporate website. They will form an opinion of an organisation from this vast array of data – and the interview process will either confirm or deny those first impressions. 

Of course, for many organisations, job applicants may also be consumers, linking inextricably the consumer brand and the employer brand. Even unsuccessful candidates can be an advocate for your brand if you provide them with the right kind of experience.  

But it’s not just about reputation. It’s also about engaging talent in a competitive market. The second reason why candidate experience is so

important is that, for the successful applicant, the candidate experience is the start of the employee engagement process. The experience of the recruitment and selection process is a window into your organisational culture; its overall experience provides an insight to an applicant on what it will be like to work for you every day, should they accept. A poor candidate experience may directly impact on whether someone chooses to accept or reject a job offer. When they do accept, the steps before their actual start date can either reaffirm that decision – or call it into question. Put simply, poor candidate experience is a missed opportunity for businesses.

Finally – providing a good candidate experience is the right thing to do. Can you remember the last time you were looking for work? Talk to many people and they will describe job hunting as a fairly miserable experience. Unanswered applications. Ignored requests for feedback. Ghosting. All too often, the effort required of a candidate is vastly disproportionate to the time taken to consider their application.  How you treat your job applicants says much about you as an organisation. Where people take the time and trouble to apply for a role with your organisation, so too should the organisation take the time and trouble to make this a human and fair process, with the experience of the candidate right at its heart. 

Recruitment is too important for it to be undertaken poorly. It’s time to focus on the candidate.

You can download a copy of our book on Candidate Experience with a free 30-day trial here.

A different kind of email policy

A mobile phone email inbox showing one new message

As someone who has been involved in policy work for a good while, I remember the days when creating an email policy was a big deal. It had the same level of focus that social media policies get today.  I’m sure that when workplaces first introduced desk phones we felt the need to tell people how to use them too. We created rules and processes.  Management guidance and lists of dos and don’ts. 

Eventually, these things become so part of the everyday (or even passé) that the need for a policy wanes.  I reckon there are plenty of email policies out there though, all the same.

Recently, someone in my Twitter timeline talked about the need for a different type of email policy – a healthy email policy.  

Email as a bad reputation.  We know that it can be a problem. Not the tool itself but how, and often when, it is used. There are many organisations where the email culture isn’t healthy at all. Competitive late night emailing. Expectation of immediate responses.  Meaningless out of office messages, because employees feel like they can never really switch off.  The passive aggressive cc.  The ‘confirming our discussion’ type.  And so on.

Of course, it’s not just unhealthy organisational habits, but personal ones too. We jump to the inbox ping, an ingrained Pavlovian response. Our emails are often in our pockets or on our smart watches, following us everywhere, quietly nagging us for a response.  And we do.

So just what could a healthy email policy look like? For some organisations it means banning emails ‘out of hours’ or automatically deleting emails when people are on holiday.  Both of these feel a little too much like treating employees like children who can’t manage their own workloads.  It also risks enforcing the idea that there is any such thing as a ‘normal’ working day.

Instead, a healthy email culture is one where someone does not feel like they have to respond immediately or be thought of as less committed or motivated. Where you can put an out of office on and mean it.  Where, if someone wants to work late at nights or weekend, they do so in a way that doesn’t role model unhealthy or unhelpful habits (just put them in your drafts folks and send them in the morning or let people know that it’s because you work flexibly).  It also means an email culture where sometimes we don’t send one at all and just get up and have a conversation instead. 

Do we need a healthy email policy?  In an ideal world – no. Or at least we shouldn’t, in an adult to adult working environment. Instead, we need to start with ourselves by creating our own healthy email habits – and challenging the unhealthy ones we see from our colleagues too, along the way.  Maybe what we need instead of yet another policy is a reminder that when it comes email (and indeed pretty much everything else) we need to work with both wellbeing and colleagues in mind. 

Flexible working for all?

The Labour party recently announced that should they return to government they would introduce flexible working from day one, with the intention that there would be a presumption for flexible working with all roles.   It’s hard to see how this could work in practice – but of course it all depends on what we actually mean by flexible working.

Talk of flexible working brings with it a range of assumptions and biases. Many people understand flexible working to mean working part time  or some form of reduced hours – very often for family reasons.  It is, regretfully, seen as omething of interest primarily to the mothers of young children. Within that somewhat limited definition it could be possible to have a legislative framework in which any full time job should be considered as suitable for working fewer hours.  The 37.5 hour working week is after all, a fairly arbitrary invention.

But flexible working is so much more than that.  All too often we look at it through the family friendly lens. This article from the Guardian illustrates that nicely.  Check out the accompanying stock image (also included at the top of this blog).  A woman in a business suit, baby on shoulder.  Flexible working isn’t something that mums want when they have a small child – but this is how it is often portrayed – both in the media and within organisations.

There are so many reasons people want to work flexibly. Some of these are practical; caring responsibilities, financial reasons (just consider the cost of commuting), disabilities, children.  Others are lifestyle or wellbeing choices.  Combining work with study or hobbies, the desire for greater life work balance.  None is ‘better’ or more important than others. 

Yes, women do the bulk of the childcare in our society, and broader care responsibilities too. That’s part of a bigger problem.  The solution isn’t to make it easier for women to get flexible working, but to make flexible working an accepted norm for everyone.  The 26 week wait to request flexible working is undoubtedly a barrier to flexibility.  The statutory framework could also be much improved, not least because it’s all too easy to reject a request on the flimsiest of grounds. Of course, in our internal policies we can always choose to do so much better than the minimum statutory requirements. 

But when it comes to flexible working the real issue (and barrier) however, is attitudes.

Too often, when it comes to flexible working, the answer is no,now what’s the question?

There is all too often a belief that flexible working will be exploited. That it’s an excuse for skiving.  That there’s nothing in it for the organisation.  That men don’t need it, and those that do are somehow weak or available for jokes.  That those who work flexibly are somehow less committed and motivated.

This is the stuff  that needs to change, perhaps more than the legislation itself.

Perhaps we can start with our stock images – and our own internal framing. Where’s your flexible working policy?  In with your employee benefits – or next to the maternity and adoption policy?

GDPR – 5 steps to take today

Wondering what all the GDPR fuss is about?  There is plenty of information out there – so here is our attempt to make it simple.  Here are the practical steps that you need to be taking today in order to be ready for the new regime in May.

 

1. Review your contracts of employment  

You probably have a standard contract of employment that contains a consent clause.  After 25th May, you won’t be able to rely on this clause.  Instead you will need to review your contract template and include a privacy notice which makes explicit what personal data you are collecting, why you need, what you’re going to do with it and how long you’re going to keep it. More on this below.

 

2. Train your people

You need to ensure that your employees know about the GDPR.  This is especially important for those who have data processing as part of their jobs.  They need to be aware of the changes and how they need to act differently after the new regulations come into force.  You also need to make sure your people are aware of the rules around reporting data breaches to the relevant authority within 72 hours. You may also need to inform the subject of the data breach in certain circumstances. So you can see why it’s important that your people understand this.

 

3. Issue a privacy notice and make it publicly available

As mentioned in point 1, this is an essential step for both employees and job applicants alike. Resist the temptation to make it one of those 94-page terms and conditions documents that we all mindlessly agree to for all kinds of internet services these days: the regulations are very clear that notices must be easily accessible and easy to understand, as well as free of charge. The ICO has helpful guidelines around privacy notices on their website here: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-data-protection/privacy-notices-transparency-and-control/privacy-notices-under-the-eu-general-data-protection-regulation/ 

 

4. Audit – and conduct and initial risk assessment

The precise details of this audit will depend on your business and what you do, however there are common principles.  For example, start by ensuring that you are only collecting the minimum amount of personal information that you need for your business.  Check all of your data storage: both physical and digital. Are they safe? Where are your biggest risks of data loss? Do you still need to keep data that way or can you change your processes? How do you get consent from your data subjects? Will it be sufficient for the GDPR? What Data Protection Impact Assessments do you need to carry out? Again, the ICO website has some helpful self-assessment tools to help you here.

 

5. Review the personal data you are currently holding – and have a big clear out

It is time to clear out the clutter!  Do you need it full stop?  If you do, do you need it stored in the same format? For example, could you scan physical data and store it electronically (more securely). Does your business rely on paperwork being taken off site? This could make it all the more important to move to digital storage.  Digital devices can be password protected, but once lost, pieces of paper cannot be secured.

 

Finally, review your HR policies and procedures.  This will include those that specifically reference data protection but will include others too that reference the processing of data such as your sickness absence and recruitment policies. And if you need any help with this – well, this is what we do.  We can help you review your existing policies, and we can provide up to date, GDPR compliant policies on data protection.  Contact us for more information on how we can help you further.

Time for a menopause policy?

We spend a lot of time doing policy work for our clients. A little while ago the question arose…. Should we have a policy on the menopause at work?

 

My immediate response, fuelled by a general dislike of having a policy for absolutely everything, was…. no. Why would we need one?

 

And then I educated myself a little bit more.

 

It’s an area that is getting increasing focus from government, trade unions and organisations. You can find a recent publication here.

 

Here is what I now know:

  • Women are working later in life than they did in the past.
  • If we take the typical age that women experience the menopause, over 4m could be working through this life transition in the UK.
  • For some women, the symptoms can be severe and debilitating. There’s various research, but around 10-15% of women experience very severe symptoms.
  • Symptoms vary – but many can impact upon work either practically or in terms of confidence.
  • At the same time, for many women, it’s hard to talk about their menopause in the workplace – especially to male and/or younger managers.
  • Some women find coping strategies. Others opt to hide their symptoms.
  • Women are concerned about how they will be perceived if they talk about it. Some research points to discrimination and inappropriate comments and banter (otherwise known has harassment) about the menopause.
  • More research pointed to the increased likelihood of negative reactions in male-dominated environments – making women even less likely to speak out.

 

We’ve seen the matter of the menopause in the employment tribunal too. The leading case involves a women being dismissed for performance, which she alleged was as a result of her menopause and associated health conditions. The dismissing (male) manager made no attempt to verify this with Occupational Health, and instead based his decision on the (non-severe) menopause experiences of his wife and HR advisor……. I’ll just leave that there.

 

On my commute today I saw a poll on Twitter, asking if women should get ‘menopause leave’. The evidence is clear that menopause is an experience that differs significantly from woman to woman. So a one stop shop piece of legislation or ‘right to request time off’ isn’t the answer.

 

Small changes are sometimes all that is needed. If you provide uniform, making sure it’s made of natural fibres, or providing more than normal so that women can change at work. Small adjustments to working hours or breaks for women who are experiencing sleep problems or fatigue. Ventilation, fans and access to cold drinking water or changing facilities.

 

Above all, like with most people stuff, it is about dialogue. Creating the conditions where conversations are safe, people feel like they can raise the difficult stuff and reach out for the support that they really need.

 

So, maybe it is time for a menopause policy – or at least some guidance to help employees and managers alike. We have recently written our first documents for clients – so if you need any help with thinking about how your approach the menopause where you work…. get in touch!