Patrick Woodman: How far should an employer’s responsibility extend in supporting employees’ work-life balance?


On 1 January 2017, a new law came into force in France that gives workers the legal right to avoid work emails outside of working hours. Commonly known as ‘the right to disconnect’, businesses with over 50 employees must draw up a charter of good conduct, which will set out that staff are not supposed to send or answer emails outside of work.

To some, this may seem a bit dramatic; checking emails at home in front of the television or even first thing in the morning when we wake up has become second nature. However, when we stop and reflect, it becomes clear how much damage this ‘always-on’ approach does not only to people, but to businesses as well.

Striking a good work-life balance is essential for good productivity, but this will be impossible to achieve if managers do not set a good example. The Chartered Management Institute’s (CMI’s) Quality of working life 2016 report, published in January 2016, revealed that ‘always-on’ managers are now working 29 days extra a year and are suffering rising levels of stress, with two-thirds saying it was hard for them to switch off from work. Those who do struggle to switch off from work and check email more report lower personal productivity and job satisfaction levels.

Stress is more than three times as common among those working long hours, with 20% of those working over three hours a day extra saying that they are often stressed, compared to only 6% of those working no additional hours.

Other G7 members report productivity levels that are, on average, 18% ahead of the UK. Productivity will continue to suffer unless employers train managers to prevent overwork and empower workers.

Professional managers must have the skills to prevent the causes of burnout. Effective management of time and resources should allow them to set a good example to workers.

We need to move away from the attitude that more hours means more work. Employers need to take a very active role in ensuring a work-life balance for workers, not just for their health but for the health of the business too.

Patrick Woodman is head of research at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI)