The issue of work-life balance has been gaining momentum in the past decade, in spite of the economic recession. Governments and institutions, as well as single businesses, have recognised that its achievement benefits not only worker health and morale, but also productivity and country growth.
In the business world, companies now increasingly rely on their reputation for providing workers with flexible working arrangements in order to attract and retain top talent. So as to measure actual working behaviours alongside perceptions, the Regus Work-Life Balance Index calibrates a number of different factors, such as work enjoyment, sense of achievement, additional duties, working hours, commute length and actual time spent away from personal life.
The Regus Work-Life Balance Index, surveying over 16,000 professionals across more than 80 countries, has registered an encouraging 24% rise between 2010 and 2012. In 2012, some 61% of businesspeople globally feel their work-life balance has improved, a figure representing a positive majority, but also revealing there is still room for improvement. Emerging economies, such as Mexico, Brazil, China and India, top the chart for improving balance, suggesting that development in these countries is growing hand-in-hand with worker well-being.
In China, however, an above average rating has only grown four points, the smallest variation in the sample analysed and a worrying suggestion that Chinese businesses may have taken focus away from work-life balance improvements in reaction to a slight slowdown in the economy. At the other end of the scale, Western economies were among the hardest hit by the downturn, so it is not surprising their index ratings should be lower than average – although Germany, surprisingly, comes in at the bottom of the pile. The OECD confirms that in Germany female labour participation, an important indicator of a good national work-life balance, is low, as it is the only OECD country where second earners in families with children are not favoured by the tax or benefits system.
The survey also reports workers are happier, with 69% of respondents declaring they enjoy work more than in 2010 and 59% saying they are happy with the amount of time they spend with family or at home. In 2010, Western economies were still suffering heavily from the effects of the downturn, therefore it is not surprising that well over half of respondents in the UK, US, Belgium, and France feel there has been an improvement in their enjoyment of work since then. On the other hand, emerging economies such as Mexico, Brazil and India show the greatest proportion of respondents declaring they are enjoying work more than in 2010, highlighting that improvement of working life is growing hand-in-hand with economic advancement.
Confirming that happy workers are also productive workers, fully 74% of workers globally also believe they achieve more at work than they used to, reaffirming recent Regus research showing flexible working practices improve productivity.
The research found that smaller companies were taking better care of their workers, as their staff reported a higher work-life balance rating than larger companies. In small firms, the work-life balance index was 130 points, compared to only 109 in larger businesses. In addition to this, work-life balance has improved since 2010 for every size of company, but it has taken a particular leap forwards in smaller companies, where the index has increased fully 27 points.
To help workers achieve a better harmony between work and personal life and become more healthy and productive, businesses are increasingly opting for flexible working practices that give workers the freedom to choose when they work and where they work from. In particular, the survey found that over two-fifths (41%) of global respondents think companies are doing more to help reduce the time employees spend commuting. Lengthy commutes of over 45 minutes are in fact associated with poor sleep quality, exhaustion, and low general health. By empowering workers to select locations closer to home or to avoid the rush hour, companies are cutting the strain of a lengthy commute and taking care of their staff.
As economic conditions and the job market improve, businesses will have to focus on offering a positive work-life balance if they want to hire and retain top talent. One popular way of helping employees take control over their work-life balance is to introduce more flexible working practices. Whether these measures enable workers to travel out of peak time, to work from locations closer to home or to spend more time with their families, this survey indicates productivity will improve hand-in-hand with worker happiness.
Steve Purdy, UK managing director, Regus
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