Mark was recently analysing some employee opinion survey results where lack of work/life balance was a major complaint in one client’s results.
This got him thinking about recent coverage of Japan’s ‘Premium Friday’ – an initiative designed to get workers home on time, at least some of the time.
The Guardian reported in February this year that Japan’s first Premium Friday has received a mixed response. It was a government initiative to encourage companies to get their workers to leave at 3pm on the last Friday in every month and address the issue of excessive hours and lack of work/life balance. At the time, the paper reported that a mere 37% of businesses “had either decided to enter into the spirit of Premium Friday or had plans to do so.”
Easy on paper – it’s just leaving a few hours early on one day, once a month. Job done. Recently though the BBC reported problems with the initiative and highlighted one company that was now actually giving people money on those Fridays as an extra incentive to leave at 3pm. Even this ‘bribe’ wasn’t having the desired impact. While there are, no doubt, many cultural factors at play here, imagine giving the average British worker an envelope of cash once a month to leave a few hours early? I’m sure there would be a stampede to the door in many workplaces!
Crucially though, one of the main reasons why Premium Friday has been slow in taking off is essentially about role-modelling by the bosses. As one worker said in the feature, the bosses don’t do it and no-one wants to be the first to check out early.
Changing behaviour, especially workplace behaviour, which is so inextricably linked to ingrained organisational culture, can be tough. But one of the best places to start is with the leaders of the organisation. If work/life balance is considered important (and it should be!) then they need to lead by example. And that means holding back on those Saturday emails and texts (why not set them to be sent on Monday?), putting a stop to office ‘part-timer‘ jibes aimed at people who have got a grip on their own work/life balance and being aware of their own work/life balance too. In short, it’s a case of “do as I do, not as I say.”
In Japan, it’s baby steps as far as role-modelling goes, but as the BBC reported, at least one leader may be making changes: “The prime minister left the office at 3pm sharp for a weekend away…the first time he had done so since his holiday in August.”
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I like the idea of a Premium Friday, (what’s not to like?) not least as a signal for people just to think about work/life balance and what’s important to them. Is it needed in this country? I’m not so sure, but certainly the focus it gives companies on the growing problem of stress and mental health in the workplace at least gives it some merit to explore further.