Beyond Clock Watching


Stretch the work to fit the hours available? Make the hours fit the work? This conundrum of so-called “work-life balance” is quite the buzzword at the moment. But what on earth does it mean in this current economic climate? And how does one implement it in a way that does not harm the business?

For the control freaks among us, it is an even harder concept to wrap one’s head around – if our staff are all at work during the proper working hours and are all accounted for, they are all productive and doing what they are meant to do – right? If I cannot see them, who knows what they are up to?

How we manage people, reflecting the workplace as a whole, is undergoing rapid change. In today’s economic climate, organisations need a workforce that is stable and committed, but also more adaptable and flexible to meet the business challenges ahead. Likewise, employees are placing more value on ‘quality of working life’ and seeking greater flexibility so that they can manage work commitments alongside family and personal life”

Worklife Research Centre

Being able to let go enough, to allow our employees to do what is expected of them in their own time and on their own turf, requires a high level of trust. However, it is proven that work-life balance strategies work. That trust that you place in employees is given back to you plentifold, if staff feel that you are treating them like grown-ups and trust them to complete the work to the quality and time limits expected of them. The adjustment it takes means that you stretch the hours to fit the work and not the other way around.

So what does this mean practically? An employee who is at work stressing about their sick child, is not engaged nor productive. If you allow this employee the time to sort out the crisis, but ask that they complete their work because the client is expecting it at a certain time and emphasise the importance of this client relationship, chances are this employee will reward you with the finished work, even if it means working late into the night to do so.

If you clock-watch, the employee will leave at exactly the given clocking out time, regardless of whether the work is done or not. If you share the required outcomes with an employee, you not only send the message that you trust them, it invokes a greater psychological buy-in into the process. Co-creation with the employee of the results required is the process to aim for.

We lag behind the UK and some Scandinavian countries in this regard. The UK has passed a law that requires organizations to embark on work-life balance strategies, knowing that it enhances productivity. In South Africa, we are not quite there yet, but the principle remains the same. Millennials particularly, buy in to the work-life balance principle and it makes sense to look at strategies like job-sharing, work-from-home and flexi-time.

Christmas Quarrels and Conflict Management book social media book unfair discriminationMarleen Potgieter is a labour lawyer. She is the author of Social Media and Employment Law and co-author of Unfair Discrimination in the Workplace.

Follow her on Twitter (@MarleenRing) and Facebook, or visit her website, Equity Works.