The new generation joining the workforce has grown up in a world of doing homework from Starbucks, booking GPs appointments online at 10pm and where in-person trips to the supermarket are a novelty. For a long time, work life balance was seen as only of real importance to those with children and complicated nursery pick-ups, but flexible work policies are now competitive benefits and are viewed by millennials as important, if not more so, as money.
Millennials’ financial future
Debt repayment programmes, season ticket loans and genuine emphasis on work life balance have real resonance to a generation that is starting its working life in debt and has often witnessed Boomer Burn-Out at first hand. Millennials are highly unlikely to be homeowners so freedom to travel is a huge priority. An extra £1000 on a salary isn’t going to take them anywhere near a deposit on a home, so it’s easy to see why for young people facing an uncertain financial future, freedom is the preferred priority.
Avoiding an ‘always on’ culture
Having a positive company culture and a healthy work life balance has always been vital for Ballou. Technology means that personal and work life boundaries are becoming blurred, and lead to an “always on” culture. We became very aware of that at Ballou and took various precautions to ensure that our teams got proper downtime – banning WhatsApp as a way of communicating with each other was one of them. We did our best to encourage people to demarcate clear lines between work and home life, and we tried to foster a culture where we would only contact each other outside core work hours in an emergency.
Define the lines of flexible working
Defining the lines of flexible working is vital, because unless the lines of demarcation are clear then a working parent can end up feeling guilty when they’re not with their family and guilty about work when they are. That works for no-one. Flexible working is definitely something we encourage at Ballou, but this should not mean “always available”. For example, a potential work issue occurs to you as you’re putting your children to bed. Rather than shelving that for 9am the next morning, making a note of it somewhere so it doesn’t slide off the to-do list, you message a question about it to a colleague or employee. They’re just about to eat their evening meal and then find themselves trying to interpret if you want them to fix the issue, simply acknowledge receipt of your message or call you. They message a colleague to find out if the colleague knows more about the issue than they do. Before you know where you are, you’re on a grumpy Zoom meeting at 9.30pm.
Flexible working is freedom
Boundaries are key along with a corporate culture that respects that working patterns at home are different to in an office. It’s ok to be picking up your child up at 3pm so long as you’re making up the time elsewhere. Similarly, we encourage people to take fitness classes when it suits them so long as they aren’t neglecting their work. More flexible working is liberating for everyone, as long as it’s accompanied by trust and respect on both sides.
As an employee, don’t assume that anyone is expecting you to be always available. Set boundaries by being assertive rather than aggressive. Don’t answer messages after hours unless it is really urgent.
No after-hours messaging
As an employer, embed it in your company policy that unless it is absolutely critical no-one should be messaged after hours, to save the above situation happening. Your managers should make it clear that they are not always “on” and don’t expect other people to be either. If someone emails you at 8pm don’t reply (unless it’s urgent) until 9am the following morning. Replying after hours gives the impression that the employee is expected to be working the same hours as you. It’s the responsibility of an employer to respect these boundaries.
Look on the bright side
We started from a good place in that we had built up very robust cultural values and we live them every day, so anyone joining Ballou knows that they are coming into a company with a commitment to a healthy work life balance.
We have, thankfully, for the sake of our mental health, as a country and an industry, moved away from living to work and towards working to live. Lockdowns and working through the pandemic have been extremely tough but at the same time they have sharpened the focus on our work life balance. In our view, that is a very welcome silver lining.
By Cordy Griffiths is CEO of tech agency Ballou, bringing in revenue of more than £1m a year and working with clients like Zendesk and Mozilla. Over the course of her career Cordy’s clients have included Expedia, Egencia, Trivago, HotelTonight and Trip.com, developed Hotels.com’s PR presence across Europe and Latin America and in her time at Google, launched Google Street View.