By Steve Purdy, UK Managing Director, Regus

Each month brings a variety of ‘awareness’ weeks and days, many of them eccentric. Did you know there was an ‘International Talk like a Pirate Day’ last week?

But most awareness events are less frivolous, and this week’s National Work Life Week is relevant to all the 30 million-plus people in the UK who are in work. Given that over a third of parents say work affects their home in a negative way,[1] it’s an important initiative — and not just for parents, but for all workers.

Work-life balance has been boosted by changes such as the new Flexible Working legislation which came into force in the UK earlier this year. Even so, it is still a concept that some employers talk about in the abstract. For example, in research commissioned by Regus, nearly eight out of ten respondents in large firms say managers are likely to consider employees arriving early and leaving late as the most hard-working.

This clearly needs to shift, and National Work Life Week should promote real change, not just discussion. Here are some ways companies can back up words with action:

Use role models
Companies need champions of flexible working and work-life balance at senior level, and they should disseminate their own experience — for example, through short seminars to other staff on how they make it work.

Work smarter
Employers sometimes complain that the emphasis of work-life initiatives is on doing less work. A better approach is to help people use their working time better.

If the working culture is to stay till 7pm, the time people spend on their tasks will expand to fit the space. More productive is to provide tools and training that enable people to provide the same quality of output by 5.30pm. Good practices include better meeting discipline, time management training, prevention of email overload, and better day-to-day goal-setting.

A healthier office culture
With offices with natural light and refreshments, and people going out to get fresh air at lunchtime — can also help productivity and energy levels.

Minimise dead time
Our research shows the average British one-way commute is now 29.6 minutes, compared to 26 minutes two years ago. For workers in full-time employment, that’s almost five hours a week in traffic or public transport.

Give staff an option to work just 15 minutes away from home - at a nearby business centre or other local work hub - and they could gain an average two and a half hours a week for family time, or a stress-busting hobby (or even, occasionally, work).

Obviously, home-working can cut down commuting even further, but it doesn’t address the issues of stopping work on time, and work productivity. We all know the difficulty of switching off from work when the laptop and smartphone are blinking on the kitchen worktop. And how working at home, without professional office facilities or the mental stimulus of like-minded co-workers, can drain productivity.

These are just suggestions, of course. Work life balance is not achieved by prescribing the same rules for every person. But do give staff choices — such as the option to work at more convenient locations.

And kick the whole thing off marking in your calendar that Wednesday (24th) is Go Home on Time Day. More importantly, don’t just Go Home on Time, but Get Home On Time, and Stop Work on Time. It defeats the object if you leave at work at five, endure a lengthy commute, and then get engrossed in work emails again at home.

National Work Life Week is an excellent opportunity to give staff a glimpse into a new, healthier way of working — hopefully proving that old habits can be broken.

Steve Purdy is UK MD at Regus, the global workspace provider which is working with employers of all sizes to help them find a solution to flexible working. www.regus.co.uk

[1] Time, Health and the Family Survey 2014, Working Families.