This is the second article from our new series 'One small step for Management: The L&D guide to the giant leap in employee expectations.' We'll publish the rest over the next few weeks, if you don't want wait, you can read them all right now by downloading our brand new eBook.
Traditional wisdom has always said that people should keep their personal and work lives separate, wearing a professional face in the office, leaving their real-world problems at home. However, with 51% of British workers now working flexibly,1 and in the US 53% expecting an ongoing hybrid arrangement,2 it’s an increasingly unfair expectation to separate the two.
Parents can’t suddenly ignore their children. Spouses and roommates can’t pretend the other doesn’t exist. People living in difficult circumstances no longer have the safe haven of going out to work. So, when the workplace and home life are one and the same, what role should L&D take in supporting their people?
Responsibility of employee wellbeing
In a global survey, 80% of workers say it’s their employer’s responsibility to create a better working world post-pandemic.3 By the end of 2020, the phrase “new normal” had become an overused cliché, in a sign that people were already looking ahead, with few wanting a return of the same “old normal.”
These days, work-life balance has come even more to the forefront, with 61% of workers rating it as “very important” to them.4 Similarly, the vast majority of employers (90%) feel their organisation’s wellbeing culture can be improved.5
Despite 34% saying working from home has improved their mental health,6 you can’t discount those who find it an isolating experience. One of the most common reasons people give for wanting a shared office is the ability to socialise with colleagues. Being away from the office means people don’t get to see others as often and can become isolated, with loneliness being linked to higher risks of anxiety and depression.7
Around the world, 77% of workers say mental health has impacted their career, and yet 34% don’t expect to receive any support from their employers. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise when 50% say the mental health culture at an organisation affects their decision to join or stay.8
The importance of switching off
It used to be that when people left the office in the evening, work was over until the next morning. Since the invention of smartphones, it’s become increasingly hard to switch off. We all carry them wherever we go, creating an expectation that we’ll answer every call, read every email and reply to every message instantly.
Working from home means even less separation. What used to ‘only’ be the burden of our phones has become our laptop in the living room. When your workstation is also your dinner table, or even your bed, how do you get away from work for the night?
For the best night’s sleep, the bedroom needs to be a place associated with rest and calm. For people that work in the same room they sleep in, the brain finds no distinguishable difference. With around 7% of the American workforce getting particularly poor sleep, leading to reduced focus, memory and even job turnover, this is becoming a serious issue.9
Listen to your people to find solutions
Since the start of the pandemic, L&D training has been utilised to help people to work effectively from home. Skills like virtual communication and time management became crucial topics, but how many organisations gave their people space to talk about the number of extra hours they work each week, and how working from home has affected them?
Organisations should create - and stick to - policies regarding out of hours contact, especially for those working from home. Are there formalised contact hours where everyone needs to be online, or is it dependent on the individual’s preferences? This is particularly important for international workforces spanning multiple time zones.
While you’re having these discussions, make it an L&D priority to focus on physical and mental wellbeing. Most people, who were able, worked from home for at least a few months during the Covid-19 lockdowns. This means everyone will have something to share – either negative experiences or helpful suggestions. Create an open space for idea sharing and for airing any frustrations and worries if your organisation is continuing to work remotely.
Wellbeing is more than just getting enough exercise and sleeping well. Ask people how they stop a stressful day at work from taking over their evening? How do they avoid thinking about the household chores while working in the living room? The most pressing questions and answers are going to be different for everyone, but it’s L&D’s role to get these conversations started, listen to the answers and implement real solutions.
Remote working has many benefits, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore the challenges. If you don’t act quickly, these teething problems can pile up and affect your whole team. Use L&D to facilitate discussions, discover solutions and help people improve their own wellbeing.