Work-life balance agenda 'subliminally anti-business'

May 27 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Organisations calling for better work-life balance are “subliminally anti-business” and are “hell-bent on demonising the workplace”, according to a special report by the Institute of Directors (IoD).

Work-life balance revisited, written by Ruth Lea, head of the Policy Unit at the IoD, argues that claims that the UK has a "long hours culture" and was full of "overworked workaholics” are “urban myths”.

Citing official figures, the report claims that the average full-time male employee works fewer than 40 hours a week while the average woman works fewer than 35 hours a week. Employees who put in long hours do so voluntarily or to further their careers, Ms Lea said.

Ms Lea also said it was not true that people in the UK worked the longest hours in Europe – people in Greece work longer.

However the IoD’s figures fly in the face of an independent analysis carried out last December by recruitment company Manpower. This found that the average UK employee puts in over 43.6 hours a week – far higher than any European counterpart, while one in ten workers in the UK spends 61 hours a week or more at work.

British workers are also entitled to only 20 statutory days holiday a year, the least in Europe.

A poll by recruitment consultancy Robert Walters last year also found that 32 per cent of UK employees are expected to work at least work an extra 10 hours unpaid overtime per week – time that would not be reflected in the official figures.

The report also attempts to debunk claims that British working practices are inflexible, pointing out that 40 per cent of women worked part-time, compared with an average of 28 per cent across the EU.

However with the average cost of a nursery place in the UK for a child under two now more than £6000 per year – by far the highest in Europe – the IoD conveniently forgets that many women in the UK have no choice but to work part-time.

As the notoriously anti-business Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found in its “Work, Parenting and Careers 2002” survey, nearly three quarters of women believe becoming a parent impacts adversely on their career, while in households with an annual income of less than £20 000 per year, more than 20 per cent of women are forced to give up work completely due to the costs of childcare.

The CIPD also found that more than half of working parents (54 per cent) are not offered flexible working options of any kind.

Nevertheless, Ms Lea claimed that "British employers... are some of the most flexible in the world.

"But the work-life balance protagonists ignore this and run an anti-business agenda that seems hell-bent on demonising the workplace with a collection of, for want of a better phrase, 'urban myths'."

"These urban myths are gross distortions of the truth but, alas, they go unchallenged all too often. Moreover, the work-life language is subliminally anti-business as it suggests that, somehow, the opposite of 'life' (good thing) is 'work' (bad thing)," she added.

However, as Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary elect pointed out, "if the IoD are right, millions of workers would be clamouring outside their work places today demanding to be let in and furious at being forced to take a bank holiday off."