Could more time be the secret to workplace happiness?

4 Oct

The beautiful weather may have prompted unseasonally sunny demeanours this week, but there’s no hiding the cloud of unhappiness that’s hanging over the UK’s workforce, according to two surveys that gauge the nation’s happiness.

The Happiness at Work Index from recruitment firm Badenoch & Clark reveals that just a third (36.5%) of workers are happy in their jobs. A quarter said they were “distinctly unhappy” – and levels of unhappiness have been falling this year. The company’s managing director Nicola Linkleter puts this down to “a lack of tangible job security, longer hours, increased financial strain at work and home, and reticence from senior management to invest in additional talent”, and says that workplace morale should be addressed as a business-critical issue.

The delicate balance between work and home is the subject of the second survey, from My Family Care. Its Working Parents & Carers Flexible Working Survey 2011 reveals that just 40% of the 40,000 respondents were happy or very happy with their work/life balance.

Interestingly, there is a correlation between flexible working and being happy with their work-life balance: two-thrids (64%) of people  who are ‘very happy’ with their working pattern say they are ‘really committed’ to their employer, compared with 23% in the ‘very unhappy’ category who feel similarly committed to their employer. Happiness links to productivity, say respondents. However, flexibility does not equal career progression, with 54% in the ‘very happy’ group concerned that that their promotion prospects may be hindered by working flexibly.

So, what’s the common denominator in all of this? There’s no magic cure to the unhappiness, but I agree with one of the conclusions reached by the My Family Care survey: that the underlying issue is the pressure caused by lack of time. Working parents have jobs, children, possibly elderly parents to take care of; so many “mandatory” elements to their lives. The survey adds: “So ways to save time and use it more productively will nearly always help; from the practical – working from home during rush hour and putting convenient childcare in place, to the developmental – training designed to help workload management and productivity for flexible working.”

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