This year marks five years since flexible working legislation was broadened out to all employees, giving them the right to request flexible working from their employer. What’s developed since then – in many, but not all, industries – is a highly mobile workforce that has made the most of flexible working freedoms and the ability to work from anywhere.  

Whilst freedom and flexibility have been embraced, it has however also led to a significant blurring of the lines between work time and personal time. As fixed work hours have become a thing of the past, the distinction against personal time has become less obvious.  

Always-on culture

The 24/7 nature of technology, combined with flexible working freedoms, means employees find it increasingly difficult to disconnect from the demands of work. In a recent survey, we found that over half of UK employees have had a holiday interrupted by work, whilst two-thirds say work communications are eating into their evenings and weekends. This situation only increases with seniority. 80% of directors say they have had their holiday interrupted, 86% their weekend and 92% have had their evening disrupted by work. 

Workers in the capital are more likely to be interrupted ‘all the time’ by work than any other region, with a fifth of us always interrupted whilst on holiday.   

Sounds like a familiar situation, no? But how about if the shoe were on the other foot and employees interrupted their working hours with personal demands and interests? 

Perhaps the junior executive walks out of a business meeting with their CEO to take a personal call or comes into the office late because their prior social event overran. The receptionist steps out of the office as the VIP guest is arriving because they fancy grabbing coffee with a friend. The VP misses the first half of a pitch because they wanted a lie in. 

Whilst these are extreme, anecdotal examples, in reality flexible and mobile working means working outside the traditional 9-5 and often in the evening. During a traditional working day, employees may now be doing the school run, spending quality time with their children, or going to medical appointments. This is becoming widely accepted as it easily absorbs into people’s working weeks. However, the trade-off is that employees are clearly not able to switch off outside of work hours when they need to. 

Technology – the antagonist and saviour? 

The world of work has changed beyond recognition compared to 20 years ago. Employers are increasingly encouraging mobile and flexible working because of the benefits it brings, including increased employee satisfaction, improved productivity and, naturally, cost savings too.  

For employees, however, constant interruptions from work during their downtime is not promoting a healthy work-life balance. UK workers use mobile technology for almost a third of their working day. Having work related apps and emails on personal devices may help facilitate flexible working, but it’s clear that it also exacerbates the ‘always on’ culture that technology has contributed to.

Ironically, it’s technology that will solve the same predicament that it’s created. Recent years have seen technology introduced to help employees switch off or divert their work communications to colleagues or others on demand. Employees can that way divert business calls outside of work hours to ensure they aren’t distracted during their free time. And employers can rest easy that their staff aren’t going to walk out of a meeting to catch their favourite daytime TV programme. 

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