Flexible working and work-life balance – how can we ensure the grass is greener on the other side?

Almost 50% (41.2% to be exact) of vets and vet nurses leave clinical practice because of poor work-life balance (WLB). This is the commonest reason. And they often state that it’s because they want more flexibility in how they work. So how can flexibility help WLB and is the grass greener on the other side?

All these concepts can be difficult to define – flexible working, work life balance, workplace wellbeing – as they mean something different for everyone. One way to get around this is to have some common definitions as a stepping stone. Then, we can carry out conversations with our colleagues and discuss  what it means to us individually and better relate to others based on some common understanding.  

Having good work-life balance is often defined as a state of wellbeing that is maintained through effective management or work and non-work related responsibilities, and with minimal negative impact. While it is up to us to effectively manage our non-work related responsibilities, it is our workplace’s job to support us and help us maintain our work-related responsibilities. Figure 1 outlines the key workplace predictors and outcomes of WLB. While flexible working will not solve all of the issues, it is a growing area of interest and research as more and more employees are finding it hard to get the balance that they want or need.


Figure 1: Workplace predictors and outcome of work-life balance

Poor WLB can lead to work-life conflict. Around a third of employees say that their job prevents them from spending enough time with family or their partner (Fagan et al, 2011); and long working hours are associated with higher levels of stress (Chandola et al, 2019). 

Flexible working needs to be understood and managed appropriately by the individual and the workplace for it to work effectively. On one hand, some research suggests that remote workers can often end up working longer hours than their office-based colleagues (Cooper and Hesketh, 2019). On the other hand, some types of flexible working, such as reducing working hours, helps reduce chronic stress compared to their full-time colleagues (Chandola et al, 2019). 

From these two research study examples, we can see the complexity of flexible working and its impact on workplace wellbeing. This is why it is important to understand some of the basics of flexible working, how it is typically defined, what forms it can take, how to reflect on individual needs and boundaries. Then, a work team can come together and define and design what flexible working means for them as a team and how it can best work to maintain a sustainable and profitable practice for them to work in. 

One survey from CIPD showed that 65% of flexible employees were satisfied or very satisfied with their WLB, compared to 47% of employees who didn’t work flexibly. WLB is subjective, and what may be a good balance for someone, may not be acceptable for someone else. Nonetheless, as the name suggests, good WLB is in part created by the employer and part created by the employee. It is not only the personal challenge of the employee, but something that employers can influence and provide a range of support. 

To understand what flexible working means, to build better awareness of what it means to you, to understand the business perspective, and to learn how to negotiate a win-win for flexible working for your job, you can find resources to help you on the Flexee Hub. The Flexee Hub is a team subscription because flexible working is a team effort. 

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