GCs should promote wellbeing in response to hybrid working shift

Out-Law Analysis | 23 Sep 2022 | 2:07 pm | 3 min. read

The shift in hybrid working patterns should notionally free up time for hard-working legal teams.

There are good reasons why managers of legal teams should encourage their lawyers to use that time for their own wellbeing, and not on work-related activity, as evidence suggests the latter would be counter intuitive.

Extra ‘free’ time and what to do with it

Hybrid working is here to stay. A survey conducted by the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) earlier this year revealed that more than 80% of workers who had to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic said they planned to hybrid work. Over the last year or so, what this hybrid working model looks like has shifted too, towards more days spent at home and working from the office ‘sometimes’. Previously a hybrid working week was more equally split between the office and home.

This means general counsel managing their teams need to think more long term about how to approach hybrid working and the wellbeing and mental health implications.

Kay Matthew

Matthew Kay

Partner, Managing Director of Vario

The first step could be really simple – letting the team know they have an extra 12 days and encouraging them to use this time to support their own wellbeing, whatever that looks like

According to the ONS stats, around three-quarters of people who worked from home in some capacity found their work life balance improved. On paper, it should effectively give these workers 12 extra days a year, using back-of-the-envelope calculations. The average commute in the UK is around an hour, multiply this by two and say an average hybrid worker is at home for three days a week, over 48 weeks in the year, giving you 12 days not spent in a car or on a train.

GCs and managers of legal teams need to give thought to how this ‘free’ time is best used – whether it makes sense to emphasise greater output, or to encourage teams to use this time to focus on mental wellbeing, and hobbies and passions outside of work.

What the evidence suggests

Generally, research looking into workloads and the length of the working day has concluded that those who work from home work a longer day – significantly so. Data from NordVPN Teams shows workers in UK, Austria, Canada and the US logged on to their computer for more than two hours a day more than pre-pandemic. This might have been accepted practice during the lockdowns, but it is not feasible, realistic or sustainable to expect workers to continue to put in excessive hours. Indeed, it is the reason issues relating to burnt-out, exhausted and dissatisfied workers looking for new opportunities are prominent.

Many GCs may be tempted to not intervene – after all, those extra hours fall outside of official working hours, and one view may be that lawyers are able to decide themselves if they want their extra 12 days to catch-up on emails. In some workplaces, this may not be an issue at all, but it’s all too easy for people to get into bad habits of checking emails earlier and earlier, and for meetings to be scheduled before the official start of the working day, just to get a head start.

This is where issues like ‘e-presenteeism’ can emerge and a culture of long hours and always being available online can easily proliferate. People then feel pressured to keep up with colleagues and the volume of out-of-hours emails can quickly grow. This is damaging for a number of reasons – presenteeism impacts bottom lines with research (4-page / 538KB PDF) from the Centre for Mental Health calculating that presenteeism costs the UK economy £15.1 billion per annum, while absenteeism costs £8.4 billion. It also leads to burn-out, mental health issues and a misplaced perception of what productivity looks like.

Actions GCs can take

As we’re all facing a future where hybrid work will play an integral role, it’s important leaders look at how this will impact teams and adjust policies, attitudes and approaches accordingly. The first step could be really simple – letting the team know they have an extra 12 days and encouraging them to use this time to support their own wellbeing, whatever that looks like. Make it clear a long-term long-hours culture is not embraced and can be detrimental.

Setting up a system to monitor the length of average working days, and those team members both logging in early and logging out late, is also important to ensure any potential problems are spotted and dealt with before they become established, and accepted, working practices.

Alternative approaches could also be considered – for example, offering at-home yoga classes at the start of the day to encourage the time to be used for something else rather than work.

The pandemic saw a shift in working patterns which won’t shift back. Many teams adopted working from home believing things would go back to ‘normal’, but now we embark on a new normal and we must adjust accordingly.