Lovewell’s logic: Global lessons on work-life balance

At the end of July, 900 Japanese organisations, including The Japan Times and Tokyo Metropolitan Government, took part in the country’s first Telework Day. The day was the first in a series planned by the Japanese government in the run up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, aimed at encouraging employers to get their employees to work outside of their usual workplace, as well as introducing healthier working practices for staff. By the time it hosts the 2020 Olympics, the Japanese government is looking to instil a culture of remote and flexible working to ease the burden on its transport network and improve commuters’ lives during the Tokyo 2020 games, using initiatives similar to those seen in London during the 2012 Olympic Games.

With Japan looking to the UK for inspiration in this instance, considering how the UK compares to other nations on issues such as work-life balance can be fascinating.

In a world where technology makes it possible to be ‘always on’, for example, France resolutely holds fast to the tradition of many employees taking August off. This long summer break stems from the days when France was a nation of farmers and the young were expected to help their parents harvest their crops over the long summer months. Although times have now changed, the nation has protected its long summer hiatus, giving people a chance to fully unwind and spend time with family and friends.

But unless it is fully engrained into an organisation’s culture, a month-long break may not be sustainable when it comes to business needs. However, this doesn’t mean many employees would not jump at the chance to improve their work-life balance, particularly when you consider research published by conference call provider Powwownow earlier this year, which found that 67% of employee respondents to its annual flexible working report said they wished they were offered flexible-working opportunities. A further 47% of full-time employees surveyed said they did not have flexible working encouraged in their workplace.

Yet, under legislation that came into effect in 2014, all employees have the right to request flexible working and employers must consider all requests seriously, providing genuine business reasons should they refuse to grant these. So, why do so many employees still appear to wish for a benefit they are entitled to at least apply for? Is this due to a lack of awareness? Or a perception that they will not be entitled to work flexibly should they apply to do so? Or that they will somehow be penalised for doing so?

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According to recruitment firm Ten2Two’s 2017 Flexible working report, 74% of flexible-working requests put forward by employee respondents were accepted by their employers. So increasing awareness and overcoming employees’ potentially negative perceptions may well be the first step needed on the path to achieving a better work-life balance other nations look to emulate.

Debbie Lovewell-Tuck
Tweet: @DebbieLovewell