Why not rushing back to outdated working practices matters 

For about five years I couldn’t walk. I could barely get myself dressed.

I’d been crippled by Rheumatoid Arthritis.

It was a condition I’d had since a teenager. The doctors said it would catch up with me as I got older. I ignored them. They were right.

By my mid-20s I had to use walking sticks to get around. I was depressed. In a horrible place. One that I’m sure lots of people reading this have been to at some point.

Keeping going

Thankfully – with the help of our wonderful NHS – I got better. Physically and mentally.

One of the things that kept me going during tough times was work.

Like many people with a long-term health condition, work provided a counterpoint to other problems. It was something I could control.

When work doesn’t work

The problem was that work wasn’t working. Not for me. And not for many people in a similar position.

Unplanned bouts of fatigue and pain were hidden. Long commutes sapped already depleted energy. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

15%!!!

A quick scan on my diary from that time shows around 35 hospital appointments each year. For context, there were 253 working days in 2019. Add in annual leave and that accounts to 15% of working time at hospital.

I’ve always had supportive bosses. But for businesses of any size these are tough numbers to digest.

There will be countless people in your organisations going through similar challenges. Circumstances that make work and home life incompatible.

Last year 4.2 million Brits who reported they had a disability were in employment. 70% of the 1.8 million single parents in the UK are in work, up from just 44% in 1996.

Almost 5 million workers are juggling work with caring responsibilities for a family member or friend. That’s one in every seven of your staff.

Flexibility

All the Government reviews, research papers and reports on this issue could be boiled down to one word. Flexibility.

That’s all people really want and need. The freedom to make work work for them.

At Hough Bellis we wanted to give people as much flexibility as possible. No office, no commute (thought we meet up regularly) and, where possible, the freedom to choose hours that fit your circumstances.

More freedom – when handled properly – means better performance and happier staff. That’s always been our experience.

In the UK, 77% of employees feel flexible working makes them more productive. Only 17% of people who work from home feel regularly affected by workplace stress, compared to 37% who work in office-based cubicles.

Over 39% of the people who work flexibly see a noticeable improvement in their mental health.

The future

We are already hearing of companies reporting a spike in productivity and a fall in sickness for large sections of the workforce – including those with long term health challenges – since lockdown.

As we wrestle with what the future of our organisations should look like my ask is that we take time to think about how we can unlock the hidden talent in our organisations.

The dozens or hundreds or thousands of people who have never been able to thrive because their work life and home life were not compatible.

We have a chance to change that.

The old way was great for those who already had it good. It’s no wonder some are desperate to rush back to it.

For those who believe in people’s potential, let’s build something new!

Bobbie Hough