Work-life Balance

by Barbara Buffton

The business case

Work-life balance is not just for people who want to reduce their working hours. It’s also about companies responding to individual circumstances to help employees fulfil their responsibilities and their potential.

All of us have lives outside work. Many of us have primary or shared responsibility for caring for children, elderly relatives or others; most of us take part in some form of educational, voluntary or leisure activity. Of course, work is also important, so getting a good balance between the two is never easy. Individuals, at all stages of their lives, work best when they can achieve an appropriate balance between work and other activities.

Case study

Unilever Foods UK Purfleet introduced a New Look Employment contract, the main elements of which were flexible working practices.

The changes led to dramatic improvements in operational efficiency – from around 40 to 50 per cent in the first year.

Absenteeism has halved since the changes to about two per cent – below the industry average.

Benefits to business

It is important to support each member of your staff to achieve the appropriate work-life balance, so that all aspects of the quality of their life can be enhanced. This is bound to have an effect on their work performance, which will noticeable in various ways.

  • Reduced absence – employees who feel comfortable about their work-life balance are healthier and don’t tend to take much unplanned time off work.
  • Employees who are more focused and more productive (especially in terms of creativity) – employees who have a good work-life balance tend to be happy and less stressed. Happy staff are more likely to work more effectively.
  • Enhanced staff morale – employees who feel they have the balance right in terms of work and home life are happier. Moods are contagious.
  • Retention of staff – to put it in bottom-line terms, employee costs are often at least 50 per cent of a company’s expenditure, with the recruitment process costing anything from £3,000 to £10,000 per employee, depending on seniority and level of technical skill. So if you have employees who are suffering from stress through work-life imbalance, it could be very costly to the organisation should you choose to do nothing about it.
  • Reduced overheads – flexible working patterns can have the added benefit of reducing office overheads.

Legislation

New legislation has been introduced to help people achieve a better work-life balance. The most recent regulations, which came into force on 6 April 2003, allow parents of children under six to request the right to work flexibly. Organisations are required to consider this request, provided it does not damage business. There is more on this in Employment Contracts.

Stress

There is no discrete law dealing directly with an employer’s responsibility as far as work-related stress is concerned. However, employers who do nothing to combat stress in the workplace are open to challenge. For example, not so long ago The Health and Safety Executive issued an enforcement notice against a hospital for failing to protect staff from stress. If the hospital fails to act to correct the situation, it will face unlimited fines.

But is being faced with financial threats the best way of motivating an organisation to take action against work-related stress? It is undoubtedly better to consider the causes of stress, some of which are likely to be an imbalance between home and work life, and its costs. The benefits to business of tackling this issue responsibly are demonstrably huge. See also Stress Management and Health & Safety.

The future is bright

According to Roffey Park’s annual Management Agenda 2006 survey:

  • Stress levels among senior managers are declining for the first time in recent years
  • Their work-life balance is improving
  • A majority (6 out of 10) of British senior managers work long hours simply because they enjoy their jobs.

A staggering 85 per cent of respondents said they worked consistently longer than their contracted working week. The reasons given were:

  • They enjoy it (60 per cent)
  • Having a heavy workload (65 per cent)
  • Needing to work long hours to be successful (26 per cent)
  • Being expected to by senior managers (12 per cent)
  • A working culture of long hours (6 per cent).

For the first time, a majority (57 per cent) of respondents said that their senior managers were committed to achieving a work-life balance, compared to a mere 33 per cent in 2005. Additionally, the number of senior managers and leaders actively practising a work-life balance has increased from 22 per cent in 2005 to 32 per cent in 2006.

This has to be the way forward, doesn’t it? If you agree, you might want to go to Flexible working patterns to see if there is anything that your organisation could consider implementing to help staff achieve work-life balance – and ultimately to improve your organisation’s bottom-line.

Example

First of all we summarised the business benefits of a work-life balance strategy to the directors. With their buy-in, it has been easier to implement the flexible working policies.