A better work-life balance is now a top priority for accountants worldwide and employers are responding to this demand. Iwona Tokc-Wilde reports
Because time is an increasingly scarce and valuable resource, many professionals struggle to cope with the resulting stress and growing demands on their time within and outside of the workplace.
In EY’s global survey, one-third of working professionals say that managing work, life and family responsibilities has become more difficult over the past five years, with millennials and parents under particular pressure.
Millennials are almost twice as likely as boomers to have a spouse or a partner who also works at least full-time. Consequently, 'Finding time for me' is the biggest challenge faced by millennial parents (76%), followed by ‘Getting enough sleep’ and ‘Managing personal and professional life’ (67%).
Lynn Rattigan, chief operating officer at EY UK & Ireland, comments: ‘Millennials are looking for a better work-life blend, where they can pursue their personal ambitions alongside their professional ones. It may be to start their own business, to train for a triathlon or to manage their work and family life.’
As a result, it’s now becoming more and more common for people to switch jobs in search of flexible working and a better work-life balance.
In fact, a Robert Half survey has found this was the number one reason why people left their jobs in 2015. The findings show a significant change compared to four years ago, when higher remuneration was the primary reason for seeking out opportunities with other employers.
One of the reasons why it’s getting harder to balance work and life is the ever improving technology and increasing connectivity, making us feel we must be available and ready to work at all times. Forty percent of accounting professionals say this has a negative impact on their work-life balance, according to research by CV Library.
But it is this new technology that makes it possible for us to work flexibly, for example from home. Also, some countries have introduced flexible working rules in recent years, allowing all qualifying employees to make a flexible working request. Consequently, many accountancy employers have developed flexible working arrangements that help their staff balance work with their particular life situation.
EY’s ‘flexible working’ has been a huge cultural change programme throughout the whole organisation.
‘We offer flexible working to all of our people, at every level, to decide where, when and how they work,’ says Lynn Rattigan. Both informal and formal arrangements are available to give people as much choice as possible, subject to the needs of their clients and teams. Some of the resources and tools that make flexible work possible include video conferencing, remote access and instant messaging.
At KPMG too, any employee, at any grade, can apply to work flexibly, although the exact arrangements might differ from country to country. In the UK, the flexible arrangements include part-time working, job sharing, glide time (working core hours of 10am to 4pm, but starting work between 8 and 10am and finishing between 4 an 6pm), the opportunity to purchase up to 35 days of additional holiday per year over and above normal holiday entitlement, unpaid leave of up to three months, career breaks of between three months and three years, and working from home for one day or more every week.
Martin Blackburn, KPMG’s head of Human Resources in the UK, comments: ‘We realise that working hard doesn’t mean you can’t also have a successful and rewarding personal life. Many of our trainees, for example, can work from a location of their choice, as well as have more control over the times when they study. This has proved particularly popular among trainees who already have parental responsibilities, as it better enables them to fit their studies around their home lives.’
He adds that they also give their people a day off on their birthdays, and 'Jump Start Fridays' in the summer months when employees can start their weekends at 3pm on Fridays.
Grant Thornton also offers formal and informal flexible working arrangements, as well as flexible family leave policies, recognising that every family is unique.
Employers know that when their staff are well and happy, they create and maintain better relationships both at work and at home, they are resilient to stress and miss fewer days at work due to sickness.
‘We therefore offer weekly yoga sessions in some of our offices, free fruit in every office, flu vaccinations for all our people, and the opportunity to join a range of sports and social groups,’ says Kylie Roberts, Grant Thornton UK’s talent development director.
One of Grant Thornton’s initiatives is their ’40-day wellbeing programme’, which has had over 500 participants in the past two years and which encourages people to eat healthy foods, cut out alcohol, caffeine and refined sugars, engage in physical activity six days a week, and practice mindfulness every day.
EY also supports and promotes employee sports teams, yoga, meditation and mindfulness groups, and run webinars, seminars and other activities to promote better health. All activities are arranged around a theme, which changes each quarter – for example, sleep, posture, mood, body clock, psychological aspects of performance, healthy eating and cognitive skills.
More and more employers also now realise that mental, and not just physical, health is key to their employees’ wellbeing and better work-life balance.
‘Earlier this year we launched the ‘Where’s your head at?’ group on our internal social network, with fact sheets and other helpful information for anyone who may be struggling with mental illness. We also wanted to create an open, safe place for people to share experiences that may help others,’ says Roberts.
Six weeks after its launch, the group already had over 15,000 views. Roberts adds: ‘The individual content included a blog from a practice leader about their personal experience with mental health. This post had 2,417 views, 77 likes and 75 comments, and prompted more blogs from a number of our people sharing their experiences, whether affected themselves or through a family member.’
The group continues to be an active place for people to share stories, discuss current news topics on mental health and ask advice from others.
‘On the back of this, we’ve run several stress awareness workshops and are investigating the possibility of mental health champions as a way of supporting our people,’ says Roberts.
EY have already trained more than 300 employees in Mental Health First Aid, and they now act as first points of contact for staff facing mental health challenges or seeking advice. The firm has also formed a mental health buddy scheme to provide an informal support network to anyone affected by a mental health condition.
‘We are tackling the stigma of mental health, which is often viewed as the last workplace taboo,’ says Steve Wilkinson, partner sponsor of Health EY.
‘But in the same way that anyone can get a cold or flu, anyone can be affected by a mental health issue. We wanted mental and physical health to hold equal weight in our wellbeing programme.’