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Stephen  Bevan

How to win the talent war when the going gets tough beyond the nine-to-five

Authors: Stephen Bevan Stephen Bevan

23 January 2013

This week, as post-Christmas blues, poor weather, returning to work and the arrival of unwelcome energy bills all combined to lower the national mood (annually dubbed Blue Monday), we provided a sneak preview to our partners of a forthcoming report through a webinar with a distinguished panel. Our study warns that, in chasing short-term business targets, organisations may be overlooking the impact of non-work factors on employee performance. Challenges such as eldercare responsibilities, accumulation of financial debt and health problems may often be beyond the control of employers but how employees are treated at such times does have an impact on engagement and productivity.

Stephen Lloyd, HRD at Santander, Paul Farmer, CEO of MIND and Fred Payne, CEO of the Bank Workers Charity opened the debate by focusing on the balance of responsibilities between the individual, the organisation and support services. It was agreed that, on some issues, the boundaries between the employers’ duty of care and the private concerns of employees are blurred. For example, employers could argue that dealing with cases of domestic violence is beyond their remit, though we know that 20% of women at work report that they have taken a period of absence from work as a direct consequence of domestic violence. At the same time, many employees may feel uncomfortable discussing their personal concerns with line managers or even with their colleagues.

The research, which we are conducting with Robertson Cooper for the Bank Workers Charity, quantifies the implications of domestic stress on employee performance, commitment and on physical and psychological wellbeing. For example, our findings highlight the lack of financial management skills among many workers, which has contributed to substantial debt and in-work poverty for many.

Our research has also shown that ‘presenteeism’ - attending work when ill - is frequently linked to employees’ worries about their lives outside work. Employers must consider an individualised approach that aims to understand the varying work and non-work needs of employees. Some forward-thinking organisations already provide Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) that take into account work-life balance needs. But of course, many of domestic issues which can affect the working life of employees cannot be resolved simply by taking up flexible working.

Many employees – especially those concerned about job security – are reluctant to resist pressure to work long hours or work in ways which increase stress and reduce work-life balance. Our forthcoming study (due out in March) suggests that a management style that takes advantage of those behaviours which might improve performance in the short-term, may have a negative impact on the medium-term consequences in terms of loyalty, commitment, as well as attraction and retention of talent.