Third of employers still resisting work-life balance message

Sep 03 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

The majority of British business has accepted that work-life balance policies are here to stay and do provide business benefits, according to The Work Foundation's latest Managing Best Practice survey. But the message still encounters pockets of resistance from managers in around a third of employers.

The vast majority of employers Ė almost seven out of ten - accept an organisational responsibility to help staff achieve a healthy work-life balance in all circumstances. This attitude was found to be particularly strong in the public and voluntary sectors and among utility firms.

Work-life balance policies among these employers are not just aimed at working parents but are extended to all staff. Work-life balance is seen as central to ensuring that their organisation is a successful, high performance workplace.

However, almost a third of organisations (28 per cent) still take a narrow statutory approach, limiting work-life balance to obligations towards working parents. Moreover responses from the HR professionals surveyed reveal that 'management resistance to change' was the number one difficulty organisations face in implementing work-life balance measures.

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 organisations."

Employers adopting a positive approach to work-life balance said that did so to boost staff retention (52 per cent), make the organisation more attractive to potential recruits (39 per cent), and to improve overall performance (38 per cent).

The introduction of work-life balance was also done in response to employee demand (36 per cent) and increasing workforce diversity (35 per cent), as well as a way to reduce sickness absence (29 per cent).

The top three benefits experienced from supporting employees' work-life balance were identified as improved employee commitment/motivation (46 per cent); higher retention rates (40 per cent) and improved employee relations (37 per cent).

While the top three measures used to assist staff achieve a better work-life balance were the provision of part-time working (90 per cent), family/emergency leave (85 per cent), and general unpaid leave (78 per cent).

But the fact that only a tiny minority (3 per cent) formally measure the take up and the impact of work-life balance measures is worrying. Against that, almost a quarter of respondents (24 per cent) plan 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."