THE PAST two years have seen a major shift in how and where employees work, and what they value when it comes to employment. In fact, in the aftermath of the pandemic, many workers have begun to place more value on their work/life balance and what’s important to them.
Both employees and employers are becoming more proactive when it comes to looking after their mental health. The benefits of hybrid working have never been more apparent, and for employees it’s never been more desireable to have that flexibility.
The Great Resignation, for example, is a global phenomenon that has at least partly been caused by workers placing more focus on what they need and want from a job. One poll conducted by recruitment firm Randstad UK recently reported that up to a quarter of British workers were planning to leave their job at the end of 2021.
Taking knowledge gained from Westfield Health’s 2022 Wellbeing Report, this article will focus on one aspect of work in particular – the after-hours email – discussing hybrid working, the shifting work/life balance and what employers can do in the future to improve their people’s wellbeing.
The effect of hybrid working
Implementation of hybrid or flexible working has been on the rise. Firstly, it was due to lockdown restrictions. However, even now after they’ve been lifted and more people are returning to offices, working from home is an effect of the pandemic that is likely to last. Over one-third of Brits have been working from home at least once a week in 2022 so far.
This shift towards flexible working has brought about many wellbeing benefits. For example, employees feel like they have more autonomy over their work and can avoid external stressors such as commuting and noisy environments.
Westfield Health’s Wellbeing Report also found jumps in searches for ‘hybrid jobs’ and ‘Indeed work from home’ during the late half of 2021, reflecting workers’ new priorities and desires for flexible working.
However, there are also drawbacks. With many employees’ desks moving to their bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms, the line between work life and home life is also blurring more than ever.
One poll conducted last year by the Royal Society for Public Health revealed that 56% of homeworkers were finding it more difficult to switch off after work. A problem that is worsened when we factor in the rise of out-of-hours emails.
The after-work email
Sending and receiving emails outside of work hours has been an issue in workplaces for many years. With an increased number of people working remotely, this issue has only grown worse.
One study conducted by Fasthosts in 2022 revealed that almost half of British office workers were receiving 5–10 work emails outside of their contracted hours every day. Most respondents also said that they tend to reply to them. Meanwhile, another study concluded that the increase in emails both during and after work has meant that the average workday is now almost 50 minutes longer.
This, coupled with hybrid working, has created an environment in workplaces where employees increasingly feel like they never leave work and need to be available 24/7. This can have a hugely negative impact on their wellbeing, with many struggling to cope with the pressure of always needing to be ‘online’.
As one Australian survey discovered, extra hours and a feeling of obligation to reply to emails during evenings and weekends can lead to higher stress levels, emotional exhaustion, and physical health problems.
Sending and responding to emails outside of normal working hours can also harm job performance. Rather than increase productivity, the exhaustion of trying to juggle emails and other tasks results in less work being done and employees feeling less engaged overall.
Our own research has found that 51% of workers have said they’re less than a month away from burnout. After-work emails are contributing to the erosion of the work/life balance. It is a growing problem that needs to be urgently addressed.
The right to disconnect
These worrying increases in work hours have led to various calls for bans on after-work emails. It’s a movement often known as the ‘right to disconnect’. Some countries have already brought forth laws to enforce employees’ right to disengage from work outside of their contracted hours, including Ireland, France, and Spain. While similar laws in the UK are currently not under consideration, the interest is growing rapidly.
Despite this, according to one poll by Wellbeing Partners, only 20% of HR Managers reported that their organisation had policies in place to stop or discourage after-work emails.
What can employers do to help?
Workplace culture is more important than ever. Building lasting habits is key to improving your employees’ wellbeing and making your business more appealing to potential recruits. In the case of out-of-hours emails, all employers and team leaders need to play their part in discouraging this practice from continuing and introduce policies that help re-establish the lost boundaries between work and home. For instance, implementing screen time limits and turning off push notifications on mobile devices can help your employees to truly ‘switch off’ after work.
Employers need to take a proactive approach to create a consistent and health-focused culture that benefits their employees. Focusing on workplace wellbeing also requires a flexible approach, with varied health and wellbeing policies that can fit around the individual needs of both office and home workers.
As working habits continue to shift and evolve, prioritising wellbeing will benefit your people, support their mental health, and build a team who are happier and more engaged.