Opinion

A focus on Work-Life-Balance must be an integral part of the new normal

One of the benefits mentioned most often by employees and employers that are now using a work-from-home (WFH) delivery model is the improvement in work-life-balance. This has been a concern for many employees for several years now and attractive employers have focused on how to improve work-life-balance for their employees.

But now that WFH has been normalised to the extent that many employees no longer want to return to their office, is there an opportunity to make a dramatic impact on work-life-balance?

I believe so. Take a look at the UK Contact Centre Forum 2020 HomeAgent Survey. This research was undertaken by the UKCCF last year and studied agents at both Sensée and SYKES. The survey was published just at the pandemic was getting underway so the views and findings here still reflect a world before the pandemic.

Although pre-pandemic research feels somewhat dated, the WFH experience of the past year has only served to enhance the findings from this survey. Everything in the research that focuses on work-life-balance is more enhanced and acute at present. As companies emerge from the lockdown and start planning how their agents should work in the ‘new normal’ they need to seriously focus on work-life-balance.

Trevor Butterworth, CEO of the UK Contact Centre Forum, summarised the 2020 survey results: “Our survey results reveal that interest in homeworking has never been higher. Compared with our 2016 Survey, an even greater number of Home Agents are reporting that they’re enjoying a better work-life-balance, have no travel-to-work costs, and have removed the time wasted travelling to work, with employers reporting greater gains in terms of lower attrition and absenteeism, and higher productivity.”

Some of the survey findings really illustrate how WFH is so different to a more traditional Monday to Friday job based in an office from 9am to 5pm:

  • 1% of the agents surveyed work 20 hours or fewer a week
  • Just 9.1% of UK homeworkers live within 5 miles of their office
  • 9% say they are provided with all the information they need to do their job
  • 7% report that they are happy doing what they do now (at work)

Some of the drivers for home working are equally revealing:

  • 7% choose to work from home so they can improve their work-life-balance
  • 2% don’t want to waste time commuting to work
  • 3% want to reduce their carbon footprint

These drivers are reinforced even more by the actual outcomes:

  • 2% say that home working gives them a better work-life-balance
  • 8% say they have no commuting costs
  • 8% say that they have now removed all the time wasted travelling to work

There are many practical reasons why home working improves work-life-balance beyond just removing the need to commute to an office. Employers with employees based at home are generally much more flexible about working hours. Over half of the agents in this survey reported that they can work multiple split shifts during a single day. 43.9% of agents reported the ability to select their own hours.

This flexibility is extremely important to remember. The debate about WFH agents often assumes that location is the only difference between WFH agents and agents in the contact centre. As can be seen from this 2020 research, there is generally a different approach to working hours and this directly leads to much greater job satisfaction.

More recent research from 5th Talent really emphasises that when companies allow employees the flexibility to organise their own work/life balance then they prefer it. 69% of agents questioned in an April 2021 study said that they want to continue working 100% from home. Only 2% want a full-time return to the contact centre.

It is not surprising that these WFH agents see such a dramatic improvement in their work-life-balance. They are engaged with their teams, they can generally choose their own working hours, and they can expect flexibility – so commitments such as the school run are no longer impossible to combine with a job.

As we start seeing a return to workplace normality in 2021 I believe these UKCCF survey results from 2020 should be revisited. This data shows the value of WFH for work-life-balance. The pandemic has shown many more employees just how much easier their life could be if they didn’t have such rigid hours and a long commute to work.

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