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A Labour Of Love - Or Labour Versus Love?

24/10/2016 16:11 | Updated 25 October 2016

'Love and work, these two things only' - this was William Morris' answer to what matters in life. 160 years later, the evidence confirms he was right to highlight these two as key ingredients of the good life.

We're social animals - we need relationships with others, and we suffer in isolation. And we're productive beings too, and meaningful, satisfying work is important to our wellbeing.

But our wellbeing also depends on a careful balance between the two - love and work - and they often collide and interfere with each other. The extent to which work contributes to - rather than hindering - our wellbeing depends in large part on relationships, and there's now plenty of evidence which demonstrates that work and relationships affect each other.

On one hand, workplace relationships are a significant factor in our satisfaction with our work. And on the other, our relationships at home are both affected by and in turn impact upon our work, and achieving an effective work-family balance is essential to our wellbeing - as well as, in fact, to our performance at work.

When we're overworked and struggling to balance work and family, we're more likely to become ill, perform less well, and leave our jobs; when we're satisfied with work and work-life balance, we're more likely to perform better and be more productive. When we're overworked, our relationships also tend to suffer, as the build-up of stress outside the relationship takes its toll on the ways in which we relate to one another. But, in their turn, personal relationships can also impact upon our work, when relationship dissatisfaction and distress affect our overall health and wellbeing and reduce our work engagement.

Relate's and Relationships Scotland's new research report, Labour of Love - or Labour versus Love - the first in a series of reports presenting findings from our landmark The Way We Are Now survey of over 5,000 people across the UK, which provides a unique window into the state of the nation's relationships - examines the quality of our relationships at work and the extent to which we're able to balance work and relationships effectively.

Although some research suggests job satisfaction is on a long-term downward trend in most advanced economies, there's good news that our workplace relationships are mostly in good health. Our findings (presented visually through an infographic as well as the report) included:

• Three-quarters (75%) of employees reported good quality relationships with colleagues.
• Almost two-thirds (63%) said their relationship with their boss was good.
• However, digging a little deeper, we observed some quite unequal experiences here in terms of gender, age, sexuality, social grade, disability and whether or not employees worked flexibly. And overall, 12% said their boss behaves in an intimidating/bullying way towards them.

In terms of balancing work and family, the picture is bleaker:
• A third (33%) of employees agreed that their employer thinks the ideal employee is available 24 hours a day
• 27% agreed that they work longer hours than they would choose and this is damaging their wellbeing
• A third (33%) agreed that their employer thinks work should be the priority in a person's life
• Over a fifth (21%) agreed that attending to care responsibilities is frowned upon at work
• A quarter (25%) agreed that stress experienced at home adversely affects them at work.

However, the good news is that this conflict between work and relationships is not simply a fact of (working) life; there's much that can be done to improve work-family balance as well as workplace relationships - with clear benefits not only for employees and their families but also for employers.

A recurring theme across many of the findings in this report is the importance of control or autonomy at work: employees who reported flexible working arrangements were doing better than those who didn't against many of the indicators of workplace relationships and work-family balance.

Besides offering flexible work to employees, employers may also offer employees relationship support services through Employee Assistance Programmes, for example - and we found 43% of employees would support this.

We're therefore calling on employers to aspire to offer flexible working arrangements as default and to provide free relationship support as part of Employee Assistance Programmes. And for employees who are struggling to find a balance between work and family, if this is causing strain on relationships or impacting wellbeing, we urge people to seek professional help or advice. People can get advice from Relate counsellors on this here: I'm finding it hard to maintain a good work-life balance, and they can talk to a counsellor here.

Given the clear ways in which our relationships and our work are linked, there is a powerful case for employees, employers and policy makers to take action to invest in and support good quality relationships, with important benefits both for employees and their families, as well as employers and productivity. This will enable us to balance the two ingredients which William Morris recognised as two key ingredients of our wellbeing, work and love.

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