Hello PPMA members and friends

This week is Work-Life week. It is promoted by the charity “Working Families” to highlight the importance of people achieving an appropriate balance in their lives between work and their interests outside of work. In my organisation we are using the week to stimulate a debate about the potential challenge to work-life balance caused by the financial squeeze and to re-emphasise the importance we continue to place on staff well-being.

The economic downturn is increasing the demands on the services provided by my Council, whilst at the same time the resources available and the number of people we have to meet those demands are reducing. Those staff we have retained are being asked to do more and there is no doubt that people feel under increasing pressure whilst at work. There is scope for some people to worker harder and deliver more. However the answer cannot lie in simply asking our staff to do more and more, to the detriment of their well-being and their work-life balance.

The charity promoting Work-Life week is particularly focused on encouraging people to spend more time with their families. This is important of course, but it is fundamentally about ensuring that people feel able to get an appropriate balance in their lives and achieve what they wish outside of work. What that balance is will vary between individuals, as much as how they wish to spend their non-work time. It does not mean that people will not work late on occasions, or write blogs after midnight. However this not be a pattern which prevents people getting the downtime they need to re-charge batteries, sustain their health and thereby remain productive.

In my Council we wish to have a debate about what work-life balance means as the pressure on resources grow. We want to know where people feel it is coming under threat and we want to respond by working through with staff and their managers what can be done to work smarter, to reduce demand, to cope with more pressure and avoid burn-out. We are also using the week to raise a wariness of the range of things in place to support the well-being of our staff – advice lines, support for healthy living, financial advice and stress management training.

Our “Supporting Staff Through Tough Times” programme reflects the tradition of our Borough as a caring employer and recognises that a high proportion of our staff are Borough residents. But we also know that there is a financial business case for investing in staff well-being, both directly in terms of reduced cost of sickness, but also through sustained levels of engagement and therefore productivity.

Wednesday the 26th is “Go Home on Time Day”. We are encouraging our senior managers to set an example and choose to leave at an hour earlier than they would normally do. We will be reporting back to our staff how they have spent the extra time they have had away from the office. As one of their number is leaving, I think many are planning to spend it at Romford Greyhound Stadium and so that will be a nice headline for the staff magazine.

Many have responded to our focus on Work-Life balance with scepticism. However I think it is part of the honest debate we need to have about the employment deal of the future. I am encouraging an on-line debate on the topic via our intranet and e-learning system and have committed to respond to all comments left there. I may be here all night!

I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts, ideas and experiences on how we go about ensuring that staff well-being and work-life balance remain priorities? Share your views with us by clicking the ‘comment’ button underneath this post’s headline.

Martin