Flexible working and mental health: Does a more flexible approach to work actually lead to a better work-life balance?

Written by Anna Bishop
Dec 16, 2020

Anna is a Training Product Manager at Red Cross Training responsible for the development and review of our training products.

The ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and changes in restrictions have meant many changes to working arrangements. Keeping a healthy work-life balance has become increasingly difficult for many people. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that 3 in 10 people are having difficulty in fulfilling their commitments outside of work due to the time they are spending working. This increases to 4 in 10 people, when taking into account caring responsibilities alongside employment. In this blog, we look at the advantages and disadvantages of flexible working and if it leads to a better work-life balance.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working is the name given to any type of working pattern which is different from your normal working hours. It can include a change of working hours, along with job sharing, career breaks, as well as part time and term time working. During the pandemic flexible working has taken on a new format, with many people balancing work with childcare and home-schooling or helping vulnerable family members all whilst working from the kitchen table.

Impact on organisational culture

Research by LinkedIn found that 83% of organisations are moving to enable flexible working in the future, however 50% are concerned that this may impact company culture. With increasing amounts of remote working throughout the pandemic, it is becoming more difficult for businesses to instil their organisations culture. Janine Chamberlin, senior director at LinkedIn, said, “Leaders and HR professionals are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact the extended period of remote working is having on organisational culture and employee morale.” It is important that organisations continue to communicate on a regular basis with their teams, especially if they have new team members.

Adapting to new caring responsibilities

During the pandemic, many people have increasingly been required to look after their children when they have been self-isolating from school, whilst others may be having to take care of vulnerable relatives. Research by the CIPD found that since the start of the pandemic, 30% of people said that their ability to work has been impacted by a change in caring responsibilities. The research states that “if employees can work flexibly, they can take on caring responsibilities without the expense and worry of not working. This will help them fulfil their responsibilities outside of work and achieve a work-life balance.” Flexible working can allow many employees to balance these new conflicting roles without compromising the needs of the organisation they work for.

Increasing levels of work-related stress, depression and anxiety

The ongoing pandemic has led to many people experiencing increased stress and anxiety and so supporting employee’s mental wellbeing, has never been so important. The latest found that the number of days lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety has increased from 12.8 million in 2018/19 to 17.9 million working days in 2019/20, that’s a staggering increase of more than half!


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Longer working hours

A poll by the Mental Health Foundation and LinkedIn found that more online meetings, the need to prove efficiency, or simply losing track of time meant that on average, UK employees have worked up to an extra 28 hours overtime each month during the pandemic, which is equal to 4 days. Enabling employees to choose their own working hours is thought to help improve mental wellbeing and resilience. Amanda Gervay, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Mastercard in the Asia Pacific said "we’ve made a concerted effort to continuously remind employees that they know their personal circumstances and needs best, and that they have complete flexibility in terms of how and when they want to work, and that we support them in their choice."

Adjusting to family emergencies

Family emergencies don’t stop in the midst of a pandemic, many children are regularly required to self-isolate from school and families have additional caring responsibilities for older or vulnerable relatives. If employees know that they can work flexibility around these situations, it can be great for managing mental health. It also ensures that employers have the flexibility to quickly adjust to any unexpected situations.

The cost of not commuting

A report commissioned by Novotel, found that a fifth of workers miss their daily commute as it gave them time to forget about work and relax before they got home. While research by Sport England found that by not having to commute, 33% of adults have more time to exercise, further boosting both their physical and mental health.

Improved productivity

Research by the CIPD identified that flexible working allows people to undertake tasks which are outside of their usual roles, enabling them to feel more motivated. Organisations and individuals can increase their productivity by adjusting their work patterns during busy and quiet periods. This can often result in increased job satisfaction which can also have a positive impact on mental wellbeing.

The future of flexible working

As a result of the pandemic, flexible working looks set to continue into the future for many. Our mental health resources hub can enable employees to have the vital skills to become resilient and maintain a state of positive mental wellbeing, which are important to maintaining a positive work-life balance in these unprecedented times

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Topics: Mental health & wellbeing

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