Is flexible working really good for employee health and wellbeing?

Feb 26, 2018 | Good Management

If you’re considering an employee wellbeing strategy in your business, chances are you are looking at facilitating flexible working as part of that, probably including working from home opportunities.

But is flexible working definitely good for employee wellbeing? It’s important not to assume it’s an easy win – there are definite risks involved and it needs careful managing.

Why is it good for health and wellbeing?

There’s plenty of evidence that flexible working, including varying/reducing working hours, and working from home either occasionally or regularly, can have a positive impact. Staff gain an improved work-life balance and are more able to arrange their family responsibilities and other commitments around their work, reducing stress.

Stress levels are also reduced for those used to a long commute at busy times who can avoid it either by travelling at different times or by working from home. More hours are gained in a day by not spending as much time on crowded buses or in traffic queues.

Employees who are allowed to vary their hours or work from home feel more control over their work and their life, which is good for wellbeing, and they can also feel more valued and trusted by their employer.

What are the concerns?

Although there are plenty of benefits, before implementing a strategy of increased flexible working and/or more working from home, you should be aware of the potential negative impacts so that you can take steps to reduce these.

Those working from home can easily suffer from a detrimental working environment. Sometimes they don’t have proper desks, chairs or suitably height-adjusted display screen equipment, all of which is a risk to health and can cause or exacerbate various conditions. Remember as the employer you have just as much responsibility for health and safety for employees working at their own home as you do when they work in the office, so ensure risk assessments are done and that staff working from home have appropriate equipment and workspace.

For those staff who work regularly from home, there is a risk of work and home life overlapping, leading to no proper distance or break from work. Sometimes employees- graze’ their emails with no definite working hours, and never switch off. Technology which is great for enabling staff to work flexibly definitely has its downsides when staff are looking at emails all weekend and in the evening, on their phone or other device.  Make sure staff know they are not expected to be available 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and are educated about the need to take breaks from work while they are working from home.

Check that staff look after their own health when working from home. If someone is not well enough to go into the office they often take a day off as sickness absence. But if someone works (or can work) from home, and only need to make it to their home office or even the sofa, they may work despite not being well enough to do so, therefore not taking time to recuperate. Ensure managers are clear to staff that they are not expected to carry on as normal when sick just because they work from home, and make sure staff understand that their health is a priority.

If flexible working involves a lot of working at home, staff can suffer from feelings of isolation and from a lack of social interaction. It’s crucial to make sure they definitely feel part of the team, and have plenty of opportunities to meet with team members and spend time in the workplace as well as just at home.

Similarly, staff who work a lot from home or work part time hours/flexible hours can all struggle with not feeling part of the team. This affects engagement, and their sense of being valued, and in turn their wellbeing. Make sure these employees are made to feel part of the team, and include them in team meetings and team events. Sometimes this might involve video conferencing options or similar, and be careful about arranging team awaydays or get togethers not to exclude staff who have family responsibilities or childcare difficulties.

Although a supportive flexible working culture can make a huge contribution to an employee wellbeing strategy, it’s crucial to ensure it’s managed well, that the risks are acknowledged and steps taken to reduce them. Otherwise you could find your well—intentioned initiative starts having the opposite of the desired effect.

If you’re considering flexible working as part of your employee wellbeing strategy and would like more guidance do get in touch.