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Penguin Group UK

Developing work-life policies that will ensure employees deliver ‘the best’ in a competitive market

The organisation
“Penguin is about finding the best authors and ideas, giving them superb editorial support and producing the best books with marketing to match.”

Penguin was founded in 1936 to publish good quality contemporary fiction at a reasonable price. In 1970 Pearson, the international media group acquired the company. Today Penguin Group UK is made-up of Penguin Press (Classics and Reference), Penguin General (popular culture publishing), its children’s divisions (Frederick Warne, Ladybird, Puffin), ePenguin (its ebooks imprint), Rough Guides and Dorling Kindersley.

“Penguin is a creative environment with a high percentage of female employees. Half of its board members are women. The business is fully committed to diversity in every sense in all activities.”

No. employees 1,200
% female 67%
% ethnic minorities 8%
% turnover 11%
% women returning after maternity leave 99%

The challenge
The Penguin Group dominates the non-fiction market. It is currently in the number one position with a 10.49% market share (2004). In fiction Penguin has a 9.6% share. In children’s books Penguin has a 14.5% market share.

Owing to the impact of popular culture ‘big sellers’, a wider diversity of sales channels, and competition from other forms of media, however, the publishing market is changing.

Competitive market forces necessitate ‘the best’ in terms of creativity: the best ideas and authors, the best publishing, and the best relationships with key customers. Understanding consumers is a key activity for the business.

“In a dynamic business, where all employees have work-life balance considerations it is vital that Penguin provides a range of benefits and support that will facilitate delivery of ‘the best’.”


Continuing to develop a long-standing work-life strategy by expanding and improving the range of available benefits:

Some of Penguin’s work-life benefits, including maternity benefits, compassionate leave and paternity leave, have been in place for over 20 years. These have now been extended to temporary employees.

Other benefits, such as counselling and a childcare allowance, have recently been added to the portfolio.

Work-life policies for parents:

  • Up to one year’s maternity leave with 26 weeks at full pay (incl. SMP)
  • 4 weeks’ paid paternity leave for fathers over the first 4 years of a child’s life
  • Childcare allowance

Work-life policies for all employees:

  • Career breaks
  • Counselling: 24/7 telephone access and up to 6 free, face-to-face counselling sessions via a counselling company
  • Up to 15 days’ compassionate leave for family or domestic problems
  • On-site occupational health centre
  • Up to 3 day’s fully paid leave for employees engaged in charitable or community work
  • Private healthcare
  • Gym membership ‘travel club’ that enables employees to book travel and holidays at very competitive rates


  • Approximately 40 employees are on maternity leave at any one time
  • 8% of workforce works flexibly
  • 400 employees have joined the gym (as of February 2004)

Additionally Penguin provides:

  • A comprehensive range of training courses available to employees at all levels to support career and skills development
  • An intranet that includes information about benefits, news about employees and charity work in order to support a positive work-life culture

Business benefits

  • Improved retention rates:
    • Employees complete an average of 5 years’ service
    • 99% of women return to work after maternity leave

  • Low absenteeism rates:
    • Absenteeism rate is down to 1.67%
    • “This is amazing given the fact that like any large organisation we do have some people absent with long-term serious health problems”

In practice

Employee supported to compete in the London Triathlon Sprint
Working mother has been able to go part-time after maternity leave
Working father and new employee impressed by the range of benefits available


Employee supported to compete in the London Triathlon Sprint

“This year at the age of 47 I have registered for my first ever triathlon. As someone who struggled to run for five minutes only a few months ago, this is a real challenge. Preparing for the event – The London Triathlon Sprint – will make me healthier, and I hope to raise lots of money for the Princess Alice Hospice through participating. A fellow employee was lovingly cared for by this charity at the end of a long battle with cancer.

“Penguin’s work-life benefits will enable me to have paid time off to attend special training for this event, and will match any funds raised up to £500. Furthermore, I can do much of the preparatory training at the gym – which is literally next-door. The occupational health centre will advise on health and diet issues and provide me with the vaccinations I need to be safe whilst swimming in the docks.”

Benefit to Penguin: supporting the community, developing a positive organisational culture, and encouraging employees to be fit and healthy

Working mother has been able to go part-time after maternity leave
“I have just returned to work part time from maternity leave. I was off for around seven months and was paid at my full time rate for six of those. Everyone I spoke to on my maternity leave was impressed with how generous the paid period was. As my husband was not working, my salary gave us the opportunity to relax and spend some time together as a family over this important early stage in our baby’s life.

“When I told my manager that I would like to return part time, she was very supportive and we have come to an agreement that I hope will work for both of us. I am now back at work part time and can’t believe how supportive everyone in the team has been – making sure I leave on time to pick up my baby and being aware of my other commitments.

“Like any new mum, I was apprehensive about leaving my baby and returning to work, but Penguin in general, and my team in particular, couldn’t have done more for me.”

Benefit to Penguin: employee retained and able to meet dual commitments


Working father and new employee impressed by the range of benefits available
“Having recently joined Penguin I was surprised at the number of benefits I’m entitled to. I qualify for childcare allowance, 20 days’ paternity leave and the private medical insurance scheme, all of which is a great assurance when you’re a father.
On top of that, it is possible for me to work flexitime to fit around childcare. There is also a compassionate leave policy which you are not penalised for using.

Benefit to Penguin: new employee could be retained for longer


Directors’ quotes

“Research has shown that companies which are more diverse are more innovative and that diversity can be a real source of competitive advantage. A more diverse climate has been shown to encourage employees to try out new ideas in their work, to feel less constrained by the working culture and to feel comfortable challenging decisions and other people’s points of view. This approach is vital to publishing.”
Helen, Managing Director of Penguin

“Things like the Penguin café and kitchens, the opportunity to read pulp books, the ‘Pearson art card’, which makes it cheaper to go to exhibitions, the language classes and the general quality of the working environment – which includes the art on the walls and Christmas parties – all contribute to people feeling that they are getting benefits in the office that enhance their entire life.”
Susan, Human Resources Director, Penguin

February 2004


© Work-Life balance part of The Work Foundation 2005