Work-life balance the key to retention

2005

Eight out of 10 people in the UK say that work-life balance considerations play a crucial role in their decision to stay with or leave their current employer.

The WorkUK Survey by consultants Watson Wyatt found that more than four out of 10 employees are actively considering finding a new job with a different employer, and nearly eight out of 10 of employees believe work-life balance to be a very important consideration - if not the key consideration - in deciding to leave for a new job.

The sample of 3,000 private sector workers in the UK also found that the concern with work-life balance is not limited to employees within specific job levels. The response to this issue is almost identical for managers and non-managers.

"A certain level of turnover can always be expected, indeed it is often perceived as healthy," said Jake Outram, a consultant at Watson Wyatt.

"But while it is unlikely that all of the 40 per cent of employees considering changing jobs will actually do so, our research demonstrates that many employers may be neglecting a key factor affecting their employees' attitudes to staying in their positions.

It is therefore important that employers understand how their employees, and in particular their high-performers, perceive their work-life balance."

The Watson Wyatt research is only the latest to find that work-life balance is fast becoming the number one retention issue in the UK.

Research for the Recruitment Confidence Index (RCI) in March found that four out of 10 viewed working hours as a "crucial" factor in their choice of employer, while half said it was important that a new employer offered them good opportunities to balance work with home.

But the RCI also found that many employers still see pay as the key to attracting and retaining staff and many continue to delude themselves that work-life balance is not a major issue.

Jake Outram added that work-life balance issues had been given renewed prominence due to the ongoing debate on the EU working hours' directive.

"Our research demonstrates the importance that employees place on achieving a sensible work-life balance, and it is evident that employers must focus on measuring the levels of work-life balance within their organisations to enable them to develop strategies that help employees to achieve a greater control over their working lives."

But a controversial report from the Federation of European Employers (FedEE) published earlier this week argued that work-life balance policies are making the long working hours culture worse because too many people are taking too much time off, leaving others to cover for their absence.

With the majority of flexible working initiatives aimed at parents of young children and those with caring responsibilities, Watson Wyatt's research suggests that employers will need to start offering those without children or dependents the same benefits as parents if they are not to see staff heading for the door.