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Work-life balance

20 November 2000 - The 'Work-life Balance 2000' baseline study was conducted jointly by the Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick and IFF Research. It was commissioned by the Department of Education and Employment (DfEE) to give baseline information for the department's work-life balance campaign. It is representative of national provision of work-life balance arrangements in places of work which have five or more employees. The study consists of two parts:

- a study of employers responsible for 2,500 workplaces in Great Britain;

- a further study of around 7500 employees.

The research concludes that there is a widespread demand from employees for the right to balance work and home life. It also reveals that businesses prefer to offer stress counselling for the personal consequences of long working hours (49%) rather than provide assistance for childcare (9%).

1 in 9 of full-time employees (including men with children) work more than 60 hours every week. Two-thirds of male employees believe that part-time working would damage their career prospects. At the same there is a clear demand for greater flexibility - especially from fathers. In general, men seem to have a greater enthusiasm for working from home than do women. Virtually all the respondents to both surveys - employees and employers alike - agreed with the concept of work-life balance. But 1 in 8 of employees still worked Saturdays and Sundays and around 20% of employees worked for 24-hour/7-day-week businesses.

Other conclusions of the study were:

- 80% of workplaces had employees who worked more than their standard hours with 39% doing so without extra pay;

- just 20% of employers were fully aware of increased maternity leave rights and 24% fully aware of new paternal leave rights;

- 25% of entitled female employees took less than 18 weeks maternity leave.

- 55% of employers consider it acceptable to allow staff to move from full-time to part-time work in some cases;

- 24% of employees now work flexitime with 12% working only during school terms

- 56% of women preferred flexible working - for example, part-time or home-based - after a pregnancy to having a longer maternity leave period.

According to Margaret Hodge, Minister for Employment and Equal Opportunities:

"For decades now women have been calling for a better work-life balance to help them be the productive workers and good mothers that they want to be. But men have been excluded from this process. Now fathers too are calling for a fairer deal. With 14% of fathers working over 60 hours every week it means that men are less and less able to spend the time with the family that they want."

"There is agreement all round - from business and from employees - that work-life balance practices lead to a healthier, happier workforce and bottom line benefits. Yet there are big differences in practice on the ground. Half of all employees have access to stress counselling, but fewer than one in nine are offered a creche to help with childcare needs. Employers are willing to deal with the consequences, not causes, of poor work-life balance.

"The most progressive employers in the survey are already seeing the business benefits of working smarter - not working less. The good news is that 60% of employers are now allowing their workers to vary their hours. And over half of employers would allow staff to switch to part-time working in some cases.

"But employees still have concerns. Nearly half of all workers who are not offered flexitime are calling for it in this survey. And many women still choose not to take up their full maternity leave.

"People are our most valuable resource. Only by building a better work-life balance for all can we get the most out of UK PLC."

And Peter Elwood, Chief Executive of Lloyds TSB and Chair of the Employers for Work-Life Balance, commented that:

"We recognise that men need to balance their work and life outside work just as much as women. Lloyds TSB's Work Options scheme provides a framework which allows employees to request a working pattern that suits their lives. Both men and women can request to work flexibly and, as long as they can provide a business case to support this, their application will be accepted.

"This is good news for employers and good news for staff. It is one of those rare and much sought after phenomena, a truly win win situation."


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