If bosses show some flexibility in allowing their employees the odd early finish to enjoy life and catch up with friends, they'll be repaid ten times over with extra effort

Since the build up to the start of the Rugby World Cup, my inbox has been full of press releases from consultancies offering to help tackle the inevitable rash of sickies, hung-over staff and extended, boozy lunch hours when the nation tunes in to yet another lesson in how to play rugby from our antipodean friends.

The message is clear: employees are a work-shy bunch who'll snatch any opportunity to steal back a few hours from their naïve and trusting bosses. But evidence shows exactly the opposite. Most employees turn up wanting to do a good job, and the majority of us put in a lot more hours than we are actually paid for.

Intellectually, most employers understand the principle that trust is vital to building a workplace full of highly committed employees, and that if you show some flexibility in allowing staff the odd early finish to go and watch the rugby (or whatever is of interest to them), they'll repay you a hundred times over with the extra effort they put in as a result.

In practice, though, too many employers still act as if they are managing one of Henry Ford's production lines, where iron discipline is needed or the whole show will fall apart.

The biggest excitement so far in the world of work-life balance this year has been the moral panic about staff accessing Facebook and other social networking sites. According to the Evening Standard, two-thirds of employers in London have now restricted or banned outright access to these sites, for fear that staff will waste their working day 'poking' their pals and planning their social life.

And some of them may, but the majority will not. If jobs are properly designed so they are engaging and fulfilling, staff will have neither the time nor the inclination to waste their days on Facebook. If they are poorly designed and filled with drudgery, banning social networking sites won't make the slightest bit of difference - they'll just find some other, more creative, way to get through the day.

Leaving aside the fact that some of these social networking sites, such as LinkedIn, are designed for business purposes, that many of them have positive business benefits, and that leading employers are now using these sites to attract recruits, there is a serious work-life balance issue here.

With working hours getting longer, and email sucking up even more of our time outside normal working hours, employers can't really complain if employees' social lives start to seep into the working day.

Which is better: to have a member of staff take five minutes out to plan their weekend, and then return to the job, or leave them to clockwatch, with their mind on when they are going to be able to phone their friends and get on with their lives?n

Steve Crabb is editor of People Management