Employers and work-life balance

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Case studies

Nationwide Building Society

The Company  

Retail Financial Services

Location Swindon, Northampton and branches throughout the country

£100 billion (they are not measured by turnover)

Pre-tax profit £188 million (interim period ended on 30 th Sept 2003)
No. of employees 15,000
% female 73%
% ethnic minorities 7.8%
% turnover 7.95% (March 2004)
% women returning after maternity leave 86%

The challenge
Nationwide are owned by their members and not shareholders so they are naturally different and expected to be different from profit-driven high street banks. They are also a socially responsible business with a vital role as consumer champion.

The workforce has been constantly changing over the past 10 years and Nationwide has had to respond effectively to keep in the balance with its members, employees (73 per cent of whom are women) and the business.

This 'difference' is in their brand promise, they are down to earth, human, honest, fair, competent and offer good value. This is reflected in their flexible working polices to their staff.

From 1999-2003 Nationwide has

  • Increased the number of home workers by over 270%
  • Increased the number of term time workers by 45%.
  • employees returning to work after maternity leave has increased to 86% with 51% of these moving onto part time hours.

Nationwide now has:

  • 31% of employees working less than 35 hours and many more work full-time on a flexible basis.
  • employee turnover rate is considerably lower than the financial services sector average of 17.9%
  • 148 home workers, 61% are male
  • 71 current term time female workers
  • 83% of employees with annualised hours contracts are female
  • employee turnover rate for March 2004 – 7.95%

Policies all employees can apply for:

  • Flexible contracts covering 8am - 8pm Monday to Saturday were introduced for all employees from November 2000
  • Job-sharing helps combine skill sets and experience, energy and ideas and helps to retain skills
  • Annual hours and compressed working weeks help to reduce or eliminate overtime costs
  • Working from home option.

Policies for parents:

  • In June 2002, it increased the period for which it pays full maternity pay from six to ten weeks and extended unpaid maternity leave from 40 weeks to a year. Employees undertaking adoption or long-term fostering are also covered.
  • Women returnees receive a £ 200.00 bonus
  • Paternity leave was increased from one week to two weeks at full pay.
  • Staff can apply for a career break if they want to extend the transition time to parenthood or other personal reasons.

Della, Personnel Manager (Operations) was awarded a special commendation in the 2003 Parents at Work, Best Boss Competition. Della was selected for creating a range of flexible working arrangements tailored to the individual needs of her team.

Nationwide work with Parents at Work - a charity who help employers, parents and children find a better balance between responsibility at home and at work.

Business benefits
The commercial advantages of implementing work-life balance practices are now well recognised and include:

  • a better recruitment offering
  • an increase in employee retention rates
  • better absence management
  • improved staff morale and productivity
  • a more diverse workforce that better reflects the society’s customer base

In practice
“I can’t praise Nationwide enough. I adopted Chandler, my second child, last summer and Nationwide has been fantastic. The Society treated our adoption like a regular pregnancy with all the benefits that involves. I’m now a school governor at Chandler’s school and Nationwide allows me time off to fulfil my duties there as well. In my opinion, Nationwide really does recognise the benefit of allowing parents to integrate themselves fully into family life. It’s great that I can achieve a balance between full-time employment and my commitments at home.”

“Paternity leave is great for fathers, families and employers as it provides an opportunity to adjust to a new way of family life. I took two week’s paternity leave in February when my son Neil was born and Nationwide was excellent. My department rescheduled my work and organised my diary to enable me to take the full paternity leave, while not having to worry about my commitments at work. There were also key hospital appointments I was able to attend before the birth. My friends who work for other organisations were slightly envious of the support I received when I became a new Dad - particularly as Nationwide isn’t legally obliged to pay the two week’s paternity at full pay.”

The future
Nationwide recognises the changes in workforce’s needs be it single or parent needs. It presents them with certain challenges, particularly where traditional supervision arrangements by management have to be re-evaluated. Employees have to be clear about what is expected of them, how the quality and volume of their work work will be assessed and what they should do if they encounter a problem. These considerations are particularly relevant in homeworking.

April 2004


© Work-Life balance part of The Work Foundation 2005