Parents say better work life balance improves their productivity

Parents who get the right work life balance are happier at work and feel they are more focused, while a significant number of those who say work dominates their lives feel less productive, unhappy in their jobs and like they are always on call, according to a new survey.

The report from the Scottish Widows’ think tank, the Centre for the Modern Family, found many workers favoured more flexible working, but that many employers say they cannot offer it due to concerns about productivity and only a very small number actively encourage their employees not to access work requests outside work hours.

It polled 2,000 adults and 500 business leaders and found that UK workers are spending an average of just 3.5 hours per week day with their family, compared with over nine hours working, commuting or working at home.

Around two in five UK workers say their ‘work family balance’ is skewed towards work, with just over a third reporting a healthy ‘work family balance’. More than a quarter feel they are less productive at work as a result and one in four feel resentful towards their employer and are unhappy in their job. Those who feel that work is not overly dominant in their lives say they feel happier and more focused at work.

Workplace pressures mean that one in four workers with a work-heavy balance say they let their family down on events or planned activities, while almost one in five say they argue more frequently with their partner or family. One in three say they don’t have time to prepare or eat meals with their family, while one in four feel they are always on call for work, even when at home.

The research highlighted the significant impact that always being on call can have on working parents, with more than a third of workers with dependent children saying their ‘work family balance’ is skewed towards work. Of this group, more than half feel they are missing out on seeing their children grow up, while 41% have to let their family down on events or planned activities.

More than four in 10 say that they (or their partner) miss out on putting the children to bed or seeing them before leaving for work in the morning, and almost half  don’t have time to prepare or eat meals with the family. In addition, almost half  say they cannot play as active a role in their children’s schoolwork as they would like.

Many working parents are also trying to manage bringing up children with the needs of their wider family, with 15% saying work prevents them spending time with elderly parents.

For some the struggle to do everything makes them feel they are not doing well either at work or at home – almost one in 10 working parents said they feel they are doing a bad job both at home and at work. Meanwhile, a third feel that productivity is lower because they are tired and stressed trying to balance work and family.

Increased flexibility at work came through as the greatest way to help address the ‘work family balance’ issuewith 60% of UK workers (and 61% of working parents) convinced that flexible working hours would help to create a better ‘work family balance’.  Almost half (49%) say that the ability to travel easily to and from work would help, whilst 47% (51% of working parents) say that being able to work from home could play a key role. However, only 34% of employees say that their employer currently offers flexible shift patterns.

The study also looked at employer attitudes towards flexibility to help improve this imbalance, and whether businesses could do more to provide greater flexibility. Three in 10 (30%) employers say they would not consider offering flexible shift patterns. Less than a third (32%) of employers polled offer the option to work part-time from home, while 34% say it would not be a consideration. Only one in 10 employers say they actively encourage employees to log off at home, yet 41% say they are unable to provide more flexibility due to concerns over productivity.

The concept of ‘work family balance’ is not new, but the pace of recent technological advancement has created a constant connection between workers and the workplace, as we face a growing expectation to always be switched on – whether in our place of work, at home with our families, or travelling between the two.

“UK workers are clearly struggling to find a happy equilibrium between work and family life, with working parents feeling the strain most acutely. At the same time, it is clear that employers could be doing more to support their workers to juggle the pressures of work and family.

“It’s time to rethink traditional ways of working and move towards a more agile approach. This will not only help employees forge a better work family balance, but to improve productivity, returning benefit to employers. We need to show businesses and government that the nation’s ‘work family balance’ has see-sawed too far in the direction of work. Together, a new, relevant approach must be found to help restore our equilibrium.”

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