To mark ‘Go Home On Time Day’, Louisa Symington-Mills urges all workers to just exactly that and reassess the amount of time they spend at the office
Where are you going to be at 5pm today?
If your answer is ‘in the office’, you’re wrong – you should be walking out of that office and making your way home.
Today is Go Home On Time Day, an initiative that wants you to do exactly what its name says. It is the cornerstone of National Work Life Week – a week that promotes work life balance, highlights to employers the dangers of long hours at work, showcases a better way to work, and reminds all of us why having the time to look after our relationships, our home lives, and our wellbeing, is so essential.
And we certainly need a reminder.
The UK suffers from a pervasive, endemic culture of long working hours; a study released earlier this month by the Trade Union Congress showed that, after a long period of decline, the number of people working more than 48 hours per week has risen again, with 13 per cent of the workforce now putting in such a lengthy week at work, up 15 per cent from 2010. The TUC point to the way the UK observes the EU’s Working Time Directive (in the UK, individual workers are free to opt out of the rule if they wish to) as being ‘too weak to beat the long-hours culture, leaving too many people stuck in ‘Burnout Britain’’.
How can we work smarter?
And it could get worse; if, as has been reported, the Prime Minister moves to ‘opt out’ the whole of the UK from the directive under its renegotiation with the European Union, employers will be free to ignore the guidance – which sets out key terms for workers such as a maximum 48 hour week, four weeks’ paid holiday per year, and rules on the number of rest hours for shift workers – altogether.
What’s more, the longer hours we’re putting in don’t seem to be translating to higher productivity for UK businesses – an efficiency conundrum that’s leaving economists and policymakers scratching their heads, and the rest of us wondering how we can work smarter, not harder.
So it makes sense that as we strive to manage our working lives, flexible working patterns are becoming increasingly popular. According to research published by recruitment consultants Robert Half earlier this year, in the last three years the adoption of flexible working by UK organisations has increased by over a third (37 percent), whilst 50 per cent of employers surveyed in London have expanded flexible working opportunities in the same time period.
Uptake of flexible working has been boosted by supportive legislation and a more widespread understanding of the advantages to businesses and individuals – such as increased efficiency and productivity, better staff retention and loyalty, improved employee health and wellbeing. However, whilst flexible working may be in the process of transforming the way we work to supremely positive effect in many sectors, where such arrangements are partnered with highly pressured and increasing workloads – as is the case in many traditional City professions – it’s possible that neither employer not employee will feel those benefits, and that needs to change.
Our work/life balance suffers
However, as quickly as flexible working practices have evolved, as tolerance has increased and as technology has improved – providing us with the incredible ability to work always and anywhere – our capacity to draw a line between ‘work’ and ‘life’ has diminished. More common than ever is a working style where we leave work at a ‘reasonable’ hour, go home and enjoy a short evening with family or friends – and then get back online to work remotely.
We admire and congratulate ourselves for what we perceive as a successful balancing act where we do conference calls in the gym, emails on the beach, and we spend the children’s sports’ day sitting in a corner of the school football pitch logged into the office with a laptop and a dongle. As work encroaches, so the quality of our home time suffers commensurately.
A member of the City parenting network Cityfathers – a lawyer who works part-time – says: “I invariably work until the early hours of the morning before my day off if, indeed, I manage to have that day off at all. And I invariably work late into the night on my day off once I’ve put my daughter to bed, and whenever I can over the weekend.
“I know that I’m not alone in making this complaint, and that I have it better than a great number of people but, quite frankly, I’m knackered.” Neither James nor his employer will experience the theoretical positive side-effects of his flexible working arrangement – he admits his wellbeing is under threat, and is now looking for a new job.
As our work/life balance becomes a work/life blend, where the two amalgam so seamlessly that we can barely tell where one ends and the other begins, we should be questioning business models that see intelligent and productive employees endure extreme working patterns, routinely including weekends and often involving missed holidays and important personal occasions.
So let’s make Go Home On Time Day more than a once-a-year ambition. We know that someone who is stressed and regularly sleep deprived is cognitively less effective than someone who is over the drink-drive limit; we know that more diverse workforces, those which are the product of more family-friendly working practices, are safer workforces. Employers and employees together need to work harder to support a true productivity-based culture of reasonable working hours, where time is respected and flexibility is offered, and taken, in good faith.
Top tips for leaving the office – and stopping work – on time
1. Plan to leave earlier than you need. If you really want to be out of the door by 6pm, set 5.30pm as your deadline to get everything done – something will always crop up last minute to delay you.
2. Make sure you’re prioritising. There’s nothing worse than staying late purely because everyone else is, or to do non-time critical work. Make sure if you’re putting in extra hours, you’re emphasising productivity.
3. Get some fresh air – you might think you have no time to take lunch, but a short break can clear your head and have a real impact on the afternoon’s productivity.
4. Start saying “no”. If your day is crammed, don’t be afraid to be assertive and highlight your workload. If you need to, engage your boss and colleagues to ensure the right work is prioritised.
5. Don’t over promise; if you’re asked to do a task just before leaving the office, clarify whether it can wait until morning. Don’t jump to stay late, or offer to do it later that evening from home, unless it’s clearly time critical.
6. Keep your distance. Only you can create and enforce your boundary between work and home life, and it’s so easy to slip and respond to your blackberry’s flashing light. If you find email encroaching into your evenings, set yourself a defined window to check what’s going on at work, and stick to it.
This article was written by Louisa Symington-Mills from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.