In a 24-hour, seemingly always-on culture where professional and private lives have increasingly become intertwined, how can employers create a renewed focus on their people’s well-being?
The importance of well-being has been building momentum among employers. Yet, this awareness needs to translate into tangible change that employees can reap the benefits of. In this context, I believe that “vitality” is the word we should use when considering health as it extends beyond a physical sense.
First, let us consider what we mean by vitality and why it is so critical. Vitality is defined as the state of actively maintaining personal well-being, energy and enthusiasm. Safeguarding vitality becomes increasingly difficult when we consider the demands and pace of modern working life.
In today’s increasingly connected digital world, our phones are never switched off, emails arrive 24 hours a day and we are often engaged in persistent social media apps. It is difficult to maintain perspective and to take a break from the never-ending pressure. We cannot underestimate the power of sleep and disconnecting to counteract these pressures, to protect our well-being and help prevent burnout. It is no overstatement to say that without energy and a healthy work-life balance, you will not be able to perform as effectively and do the best job possible. It may sound like common sense, yet it is something we need to often remind ourselves and our people about.
The business case
The business case for this approach is simple and easy to argue. Vitality is key to productivity and can ultimately contribute to exceptional client service as well as increased output. There are three further areas where it can have a profound impact. These are quality of work produced; extending and supporting career longevity; and attracting new talent to the profession.
Productivity and quality of work go hand in hand and both are proven to increase when employees are healthy and focused. Quality of work also has a strong correlation to employees who are well-rested. Auditing is a detail-orientated and insight-driven profession where decisions can depend on the judgement of an individual. In any profession, a sleep-deprived individual who has been working long hours is less likely to make the right call and these decisions can, at times, be business critical. Similarly, the danger of burnout is a significant concern in these times, meaning that careers can be cut short and individuals can be put off entering some professions.
At EY we are working to make sure that the concept of vitality is embedded into team structures and reflected in the culture, and that this is in turn translated appropriately across global markets. We are partway through the journey and in no way have we found the magic solution, but we have made conscious steps toward promoting vitality among our people. This is not a one-off project but a constantly evolving exercise to instil vitality into EY corporate DNA.
Auditors: one size does not fit all
It is critical that people are given access to the latest technology to help create a balanced environment tailored for each individual. It is a common misconception that auditors are all similar in their needs. One size does not fit all, and never will.
As a global organisation, we have a broad framework that applies worldwide and then we address each locality with a sensitivity and awareness of cultural differences to create the right approaches. For example, in the UK and Australia we have implemented a successful strategy to help people look after their vitality, which brings more flexibility and remote working options for them. We have challenged assumptions about where, when and how work gets done, while maintaining a clear focus on the results we want to achieve together. This is one of the ways we can be agile and responsive to the diverse needs of our professionals and clients.
The importance of flexible working conditions
So whether working flexibly helps people balance family demands so that they can do the school drop-off or be at home for dinner, or compete at an Olympic Games (which has been an experience for far more of our people than you might think), or volunteer for local community projects, they know they have the support to use flexible working to help them achieve the best outcomes between their work and personal lives every day.
In Hong Kong the idea of working from home is not attractive to our people as a consequence of the city’s makeup and restricted residential space. It is therefore important that we apply policies that reflect the distinct cultural and local factors that contribute to employee vitality. In Japan, as another example, we are currently testing a pilot where emails cannot be sent after 10pm local time, which ensures a respite for people in a culture that is known for long working hours.
It is imperative for an organisation to recognise that changing expectations need to be met with the right response. We are addressing the challenges of encouraging and facilitating flexible and remote working in a historically desk-driven culture by bringing partners even closer to the workforce. This helps our professionals understand they support all kinds of flexibility and empowers them to ask for it. At EY we are committed to a culture where not everybody is expected to stay until leadership has left.
The digital deluge
In America, we identified a culture heading in the direction of over-consumption and digital deluge. People are battling with the fear of missing out socially. With a 24-hour working culture, the distinction between personal and working hours was blurring. To combat this issue, we helped our professionals understand the benefits of well-being for both their mental and physical health.
We have gathered a team of Assurance professionals from across the region to take a comprehensive look at how we can enhance programs, build skills focused on finding our own work-life balance and identify tools that we can all use to preserve our well-being. The industry is changing and evolving rapidly, providing a unique opportunity to make sure vitality is embedded in the new ways of working. We recognise that is important for our people to feel they can disconnect and recharge, and we respect and encourage their need to do so.
It is clear to me that vitality is crucial to preserving the future of the auditing profession. It is critical that we build an environment and foster a culture that enables vitality and empowers the auditor of the future. The time to start that conversation is now.
The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.