Britons still struggling with work-life balance

Feb 20 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

More than half of Britons enjoy the challenges of their jobs and make sure that work does not dominate their whole life. But half also want to work fewer hours and two million would even be prepared to take a pay cut if it meant having better work-life balance.

A picture of working life in Britain provided by the Work Life Balance Centre at Keele University and the University of Sheffield has found that while many people are challenged and inspired by their work, more than eight out of 10 workers felt they could not cope with the demands made of them at least some of the time.

Almost six out of 10 also felt that they had suffered ill health as a result of stress at work, with extreme tiredness, sleeplessness and irritability with colleagues, family or friends the most common symptoms of this stress.

Half said that work stress had led to depression, while four out of 10 blamed it for anxiety or panic attacks.

Yet at the same time, almost six out of 10 (56 per cent) of those questioned by researchers felt more fulfilled when busy and half also saw work as an important part of their lives.

Around a third of people said that they enjoyed their home and work lives equally.

Critically, the majority Ė 57 per cent - felt their workloads were occasionally out of control and more than half felt that it had increased during the previous 12 months.

Meanwhile, a separate an analysis by Trades Union Congress (TUC) of the working habits of 60,000 households has suggested that almost half of employees want to work fewer hours and more than two million would be prepared to give up pay for a better work-life balance,

The TUC research found that those working in education and financial services are most keen to see a cut in their working hours, with nearly one in six employees (14 per cent) keen reduce their hours even if it means giving up pay.

Hotel and restaurant staff are least likely to want to work fewer hours for less pay, a statistic that the TUC said reflects the large numbers of part-time and low-paid jobs in hospitality.

As Julie Hurst, Director of the Work Life Balance Centre, pointed out, working excessive hours can sometimes have serious consequences.

"While the number of people admitting to making a mistake was small (11 per cent) the consequences were chilling, including serious medical errors leading to patient deaths.

"We also had a number of road traffic accidents, incidents involving trains, and workers being contaminated with dangerous chemicals," she said.

Better communication between management and staff was the key factor that would improve their work life balance
But as the Keele University research makes clear, the amount of control that individuals feel they have over their work, rather than just the hours they spend working, can have a dramatic effect on feelings of well-being.

Increasing the amount of control people have over their working life can drastically reduce illness levels, (from nine out of 10 of those who felt out of control most of the time to only a third of those who hardly ever or never felt out of control)

What's more, almost half of said that better communication between management and staff was the key factor that would improve their work life balance, while only slightly fewer (43 per cent) felt that better, more effective performance from others would be beneficial.

"Most workers in the UK find it difficult to manage their working lives with their family / private lives, many people are working more than their contracted hours," said Steve French, Lecturer in Industrial Relations at Keele University.

"Knowledge of legal rights is uncertain (although better in unionised organisations) and too many people still feel unable to cope with the pressure they are under.

"On the other hand the proportion of people made ill by work is falling, people enjoy the challenges and fulfilment of work and the availability of initiatives to improve the situation has improved."