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What is work-life balance – and is it different from flexible working?


Work-life balance means different things to different people.  But does flexible working mean the same thing? 

In reality, flexible working is a way to create work-life balance, or at least it is a step towards a better balance between our work and our lives outside of work.

Of course, it is really up to each of us as individuals to manage our priorities so that work and the things outside of work have the right emphasis and bring the right quality and balance to life.

Is work-life balance about the hours you work?

For employees, it can mean the flexibility to take our children to school before starting work – or to leave early to collect them.  Maybe it means only working during term-time and so having time off during school holidays to be with the family.  Or it could mean time to get an elderly or disabled relative or friend dressed and fed before facing the work day.

Or you might think it means only working for four days in the week.  You might even work “compressed hours”, where five days’ worth of work are squashed into four days.  Then again, you might want to only work part time and not do a full 37 or 40 hours in a week.  For you it might mean just four or five half days, or only two full days – or a mixture of part days and full days.

It might even mean not having any set hours, but working towards goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) at times to suit you.

Could work-life balance be about location?

Others want the flexibility to work from any location – either home, or somewhere else – even a different country.

It could mean hybrid working – coming to the workplace for part of the time and working remotely for the rest.  For more information about this, see my blog on the benefits of different locations for work.Of course, being in the workplace for only part of the time can mean anything from four days a week, to only once a quarter.  It might mean working part of the day in the workplace and then doing the rest of your working day at home or elsewhere.

Maybe it is the chance to take that long-planned trip round the world for eight weeks, or to have a holiday every few weeks. It could mean working at weekends and having time off in the week instead.

Or it could mean the opportunity to pursue that hobby or voluntary work or faith-based activity at the times and places when the opportunities are there, rather than having to forgo them because you need to be “at work”. 

What does Flexible Working mean for employers?

It is listening to the needs, wants and desires of your employees, and melding them into a plan for the whole team, so that all the work gets covered at the time it needs to happen.

It is working around the requirements of the business – team meetings; face to face meetings with clients, suppliers or other stakeholders; learning opportunities; team-building exercises; tools and equipment needed; clients coming to the business location for their purchase or service requirement.

It is the challenge of being fair to all of your employees.

Other Flexible Working challenges for employers

It is the headache of calculating how to pay for all of these different permutations to the working day – and how to calculate holiday entitlement.

It is the need to provide the services and goods to your customers – when and where  they want and need it, not just when it suits your employees to give it.

It is having a system to record everyone’s hours and contribution.

It is keeping a reputation both as a good employer and a great provider with whom to do business.

Flexible working is truly a skilled balancing act, whichever way you look at it.

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Jill Aburrow - HR Consultant

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