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Survey shows work-life balance
policies are working

September 9 2003 - But one third of employers are failing to get the message, according to the Work Foundation.

The Work Foundation's latest Managing Best Practice survey indicates that UK businesses have mostly accepted that work-life balance policies are here to stay and do provide business benefits. And those organizations achieving best practice awards are highlighting work-life balance as a key feature. But there are still significant pockets of resistance to the work-life balance message from managers in around a third of employing organizations.

More than two thirds of employers (68%) accept that they have an organizational responsibility to help staff achieve a healthy work-life balance in all circumstances. The survey found that this attitude was particularly strong in the public and voluntary sectors and among utility firms. Work-life balance policies among these employers extended to all staff - not just working parents. In fact, work-life balance is seen as central to ensuring that their organizations are successful, high performance workplaces.

This contrasts with the situation in nearly a third of employing organizations (28%) which continue to adopt 'a narrow statutory approach', limiting their work-life balance obligations to working parents. And responses from the 303 HR professionals surveyed show that 'management resistance to change' was the number one difficulty organizations face in implementing work-life balance measures (30%).

Deputy director of advocacy at The Work Foundation, Nick Isles, says, "The idea that flexible working should only benefit the employer still pervades the thinking of too many UK managers. Survey after survey and case study after case study shows that those employers who instigate and apply policies that improve the work-life balance of their employees see bottom line benefits for their organizations."

Business benefits of Work-Life Balance

Employers with a positive approach to work-life balance cited the following reasons:

- to boost staff retention (52%)
- make the organization more attractive to potential recruits (39%) - to improve overall performance (38%)
- to respond to employee demand (36%)
- increase workforce diversity (35%)
- to reduce sickness absence (29%)

Top three benefits experienced from supporting employees' work-life balance:

- improved employee commitment/motivation (46%)
- higher retention rates (40%)
- improved employee relations (37%)

Top three measures used to assist staff achieve a better work-life balance:

- provision of part-time working (90%)
- family/emergency leave (85%)
- general unpaid leave (78%).

A worrying feature of the survey is that a mere 3% formally measure the take up and the impact of work-life balance. But almost a quarter of respondents (24%) are planning to introduce some form of measurement in the next 12 months.

Nick Isles comments, "It is reassuring to see so many organisations moving into the 21st Century and adopting an enlightened approach to managing their people. In a service sector dominated economy like the UK's, workers and their discretionary labour have become the most important factor of production. It's therefore important that we don't wear them out too soon."


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