South Africa is one of the most challenging countries in which to achieve work-life balance, with more than 18% of South African employees working over 50 hours per week and spending less time than they should on personal care and leisure. This is according to the results of the latest Better Life Index by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which compared well-being across 35 countries around the world.
Rene Botha, Stellenbosch Area Manager for Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), believes that this poor work-life balance is due partly to the “always-on” culture of digitalisation, paired with South Africans’ old-fashioned approach to business, which still considers an 8-to-5 work day to be the reflection of a good worker.
“With high-speed internet, smartphones, and a global economy that never sleeps, people can now work at any time and from anywhere. Despite this, many local business owners still believe that ‘work’ only applies to the time spent in office, which results in people trying to put in extra hours to prove their worth,” says Botha. “But constantly working overtime should actually be seen as what it is – poor time management, or an issue with staff capacity or resources.”
Furthermore, when an employee has not been managing their work-life balance properly, it will likely have a negative impact on their ability to make judgement calls, notes Botha. “More business owners need to realise that if they create a culture for their employees to have a good work-life balance, it will have a positive impact on their business.”
Botha refers to a number of studies, which show how the level of productivity per hour in fact declines when more than 50 hours are worked in a week. “This proves that productivity shouldn’t be measured by the length of time spent at the office, but rather by the amount of work completed.
“Furthermore, those who take short breaks during the day might find their productivity improves, and exercising regularly can help some people better manage work stress. As such, being more flexible with staff regarding business hours could not only help with output, but may also improve overall morale.”
Creating a company culture that encourages work-life balance, however, requires a mind-set shift for business owners, notes Botha. “Businesses need to stop associating longer hours with greater output, or ‘time out’ with laziness. The tone has to be set by senior management, with rules around things like breaking away from the desk during the work day, taking leave owed and working within the hours stipulated in the work contract.
“Business owners also need to look at their own time management; plan better, be task-driven and prioritise. And if you have to do something personal during office hours, find a way to work in that time in order to catch up on work,” Botha explains.
“By actively encouraging a better work-life balance in your business and allowing your staff time for their personal lives, you will create a more relaxed office environment with happier employees, which in turn will positively impact customer service and lead to better business results,” concludes Botha.
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