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Case studies

IXL Laundry Services Group Ltd (IXL)

Improving work-life balance in a small business

The company
IXL, based in Buxton, Derbyshire and with a depot in Chester, provides laundry and dry cleaning services to domestic and contract clients in the Midlands and North Wales. The owners previously sold another business, Classic Cleaners, in March 2002, having bought IXL in October 2001.

Turnover £750,000

Workforce
The company has few young employees. Three employees have been with IXL for over 25 years; the longest serving member of staff has been there for 38 years. The turnover of factory staff and drivers has always been low. The company usually has no more than one member of staff on maternity leave at any one time.

No. of employees 20
% female 75
Average length of service 10 years (for 50% of staff)

* All figures are based on the year ending March 2002.

The problems

High turnover of office staff:
Staff and systems were inherited when the owners bought IXL. The owners recognised that that some systems were outdated and bureaucratic.

Traditional culture:
Flexible working options are still rare in many SMEs outside London. Apart from women with children, most employees are unused to weighing up work-life benefits when applying for jobs.

Response

Simple, informal work-life approach:

  • IXL has an ‘open door’ policy
  • Any employee can make a request to work flexible hours
  • The business case is paramount; not the personal reason for the request
  • Managers need to take into account the production schedule in the factory and overall employee cover and attendance
  • Part-time jobs were introduced: when some office vacancies arise, they are re-advertised as two part-time roles at 20 hours per week

Business benefits

  • Staff retention and loyalty:
  • Low cost of implementation:
    • Work-life policies cost only management time to implement
  • Reduced recruitment and training costs:
    • The turnover of office staff has been reduced
  • More efficient office systems:
    • New part-time office roles enabled IXL to introduce more efficient systems over time

Challenges

Factory production requirements:

  • Work-life initiatives have to revolve around an understanding of weekly and monthly production requirements
  • Employees are encouraged to work out rotas among themselves that ensure production is completed on time, while accommodating individuals’ personal commitments
  • Drivers and factory workers start at 7.30am and finish at 4.00pm or 3.00pm on Fridays: this timetable leaves sufficient time for personal commitments
  • Office staff can work more flexible hours: they can start early and/or work late

Employees motivated more by salary:

  • Unemployment in Buxton is 5% and there are few factory jobs
  • Family support is traditionally strong: grandparents expect to look after grandchildren whilst their sons and daughters are at work
  • IXL’s workforce tends to be older, therefore fewer staff than the national average have childcare responsibilities
  • Potential recruits are therefore motivated more by salary than work-life balance policies

Entrenched attitudes as a barrier to change:

Some office staff were not prepared to learn the new systems and chose to leave

In practice

Kathleen, 48, has recently started a job with IXL as a part-time bookkeeper.

The case:

  • Kathleen keeps horses and needs to feed them in the morning before work
  • Usual office hours are 9.00am to 5.00pm, but Kathleen negotiated to start work at 9.45am before she joined

Kathleen says: “I appreciate the flexibility that I have in starting later. IXL is currently changing computer systems and accounting packages. I’ve often worked longer than my agreed hours in order to ensure a smooth transition of the system.”

Benefit to IXL: Agreeing to Kathleen’s request to work flexible hours has helped engender a spirit of co-operation, which benefits the business and the bottom line.

Anna, 36, has recently started a job with IXL as a secretary working two and a half days per week.

The case:

  • Anna has three children and needs to get to two different schools and a nursery in the morning before work which are several miles apart.
  • Anna negotiated to start work at 9.15am, to accommodate the extra time needed to cover the distances.

Anna says: “The flexibility in starting times and a shorter lunch, if required, is a huge benefit as it means travelling through lighter traffic and being able to deliver all three children to their destinations calmly and safely. I don’t have the worry of being five minutes late as I know I can make the time up at lunch or after work.”

Benefit to IXL: IXL has gained Anna’s skills and ensured she has the flexibility to manage both her work and her other commitments.

June 2003

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