Providing Greater Access to Discretionary Time

Most of us know that hybrid working has blurred the lines between work and home, reducing our ability to “switch off”. For those of us with caring responsibilities – whether related to children, elderly parents or members of the community – this blurring has also skewed the ratio of time spent on paid and unpaid activities.

The pressure to stay connected means that work is encroaching on the already limited time people would otherwise spend on sleep, hobbies, exercise, friendships and other aspects of self-care. This, in turn, diminishes their ability to build personal resilience, leaving them depleted and potentially leading to burnout further down the line.

The fact that this is unsustainable for many is highlighted by the fact that currently, in the UK, the number of people not in work because of caring commitments is the highest since May 2020, and the numbers of both men and women leaving work to take care of family are rising.

So, what’s to be done? Well, one reason why work isn’t working for people with caring responsibilities is the lack of discretionary time – time they can decide what to do with. So, it makes sense the solution – or at least part of it – is to increase the amount of discretionary time available to carers.

While many employers do have flexible working policies in place, they often take a one-size-fits-all approach which doesn’t acknowledge the broad range of circumstances families find themselves in – a single parent will have very different scheduling needs to a two-parent family or a family with both elder and childcare responsibilities. The solution is to get creative: by working to understand the needs of people in their organisation, employers can develop a ’menu’ of options that can flex to different needs: from those who need to work fewer hours overall, to those who need to adjust the start/finish of their day, work compressed hours or take extended breaks between bursts of full-time work.

Instead of raising concerns about productivity, such measures should reassure organisations that they are empowering people to remain productive while maintaining engagement and wellbeing.

Founder of HSM Advisory, Prof. Lynda Gratton’s latest column in The Times explores the importance of discretionary time further, you can read it here.