Brigette Hyacinth - a speaker in fields such as leadership, digital transformation, and artificial intelligence - often writes about employers' attitudes and their impact on creating enjoyable workplace environments.
Recently, she wrote:
Hyacinth engages in an evaluation of the relationship between employer and employee, between prescribed hours and actual productivity, which is only one facet of how the modern workplace is changing and forming.
The Timewise Foundation has documented the increasing demand for flexible working practices, including remote working and flexitime contracts. This is a demand which is yet to be met, with 87% of people either working flexibly or wishing they could, yet only 11.1% of jobs over £20K FTE being advertised as flexible.
The relationship between input and output is evidently not as clear-cut as it once was. Even the spaces we work in increasingly encourage downtime, with table tennis and fussball not hard to find in most offices. The expectation seems to be that freedom within working hours, and breaks when needed, will allow people to work to their strengths on a day-to-day level as well as long-term.
Daniel H. Pink's latest book When is an extended exploration of the science and psychology behind the famous 'afternoon slump'. He details the peak, trough and rebound phases of the typical working day, and encourages professionals to understand their own circadian rhythms to increase productivity. This includes tapping into the best individual approach to taking breaks, and when to start and end the day.
Pink's study naturally aligns with an increasing desire amongst employees to have autonomy over working hours. His more scientific discussion complements Hyacinth's focus on the emotional nature of a flexible approach to input. She said:
"If your job is keeping you so busy, it hardly allows you to spend time with your family. What's the use? Who are you working for?"
We can see these considerations coming into play globally, too. New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian piloted a four-day working week in Spring 2018, with the fifth day fully paid and salaries and working hours remaining the same. The results were unanimously positive. Work-life balance improved by 24%, employee engagement by 5%, and commitment to the organisation by 20%. Founder Andrew Barnes celebrated the 'life-changing' impact the change had on employees who were, for example, single parents.
Japan has also made strides in this area, recently implementing their Shining Monday scheme allowing employees to take Monday mornings off work once a month. This comes after the Japanese government's launch of Premium Friday, allowing one Friday afternoon a month off.
Granted, Japan has a particularly dark relationship with overemphasis on input, with its own word for 'death from overworking'– 'karoshi'. The word came into play in the 1970s and is not simply hyperbole. In July 2013 31-year-old journalist Miwa Sado died of heart failure, having logged 159 hours of overtime in one month – and she is only the most recent case.
Many trace the issue back to Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida's post-World War II efforts to rebuild the Japanese economy, offering lifetime job security in exchange for loyalty and commitment. Government figures show that legal claims relating to 'karoshi' were at a record high last financial year.
The modern working world is moving towards thinking outside of the strict boundaries it once knew. With the surge in digital and mobile working, we carry work in our pockets. It's no surprise, then, that employees are seeking balance in the physical, mental and spatial boundaries between work and life.