British Telecommunications plc


"BT is exploring innovative ways of providing the resources and skills required to satisfy the growing demands of the business. Working to a set of clearly defined business principles – one of which is to manage people in ways to secure their commitment and release their creativity, resourcefulness and enthusiasm, with a view to becoming the ‘Employer of Choice’."

Corporate profile

  • 120,000 employees
  • telecommunications sector
  • privatised in 1984
  • Company turnover: £15,640 million

Key initiatives in work-life balance portfolio

  • Part-time
  • Flexible working – including Alternative Attendance Patterns
  • Job Share
  • Home working
  • Enhanced maternity scheme
  • Paternity leave
  • Nursery places
  • Holiday playscheme run by employees and their partners, funded by BT

Workforce profile

  • 26% female 74% male
  • 21% of management female and proportion is rising rapidly
  • 10,000 staff work part-time
  • 3% staff turnover

Staffing issues

Skills gaps in some sectors e.g. software engineering

Business benefits

BT recognises that policies and strategies must enable ALL our people to optimise their input into the success of the business. Frequently the prevailing work ethos is largely geared towards attending a place of work for relatively fixed, sometimes long hours, often involving significant elements of travelling. These ingredients can lead to increased stress and decreased motivation for employees struggling to balance their personal commitments with their professional ones. Given the considerable investment in terms of money, training and experience it makes business sense to do everything possible to retain people and empower them to find an acceptable work/life balance.

BT – Freedom to work


In BT we recognise that, if we are to attract, retain and motivate top quality employees, we need to respond innovatively and pro-actively to the pressures that they are dealing with in achieving a balance between work and personal life.

BT operates in a fast moving and aggressive market led by technological change of unprecedented speed and impact. We need flexibility, adaptability, new skills for new technologies and constant improvement from our people. In return we recognise that we must create a flexible environment that gives our people the freedom and responsibility to do their work well and that recognises the importance of life outside of work.

Freedom to work is an important step towards this goal.

Freedom to Work – The Project

In January 1998 BT initiated a project to develop innovative solutions to help it’s people achieve a greater balance between their professional and personal lives, it was entitled “Freedom to Work”. The project incorporated a trial which offered individuals the ability to design the attendance patterns which would help them to rebalance their personal and professional lives.

The objectives of the trial were:

  • to gain, from the direct experiences of people, a clear understanding of the benefits and risk around the adoption of Freedom to Work.
  • to create a framework of flexible working options that could be used as a successful model across BT.
  • to produce guidelines for local agreements between individuals and line managers.
  • to determine the feasibility of, and produce recommendations for, the way forward post-trial.

Eighteen people, approximately half of whom were women took part in the trial at BT’s Cardiff IT Unit. The trial ran from July 1998 to March 1999. The working patterns selected included working full time hours over four days, working a combination of long and short days, periodic home working and working longer hours over a defined period, in order to accrue blocks of non-working time, which could be taken eg during school holidays. However all of these attendance patterns still fell within existing contracts of employment.

To underpin and support the trial, four voluntary guidelines were produced to encourage culture change. The guidelines cover:

  • Occasional Home Working (the tools you need and practical advice)
  • Employees on Long Term Absence
  • Part-time Working (To encourage supportive management of part-time workers)
  • Local Caring Facilities (Facilities available in the Cardiff area with BT contact names)

The Result of the Freedom to Work Trial

To establish how the trial was progressing against the stated success criteria a questionnaire was developed. Participants and their line managers were required to complete the questionnaire at the beginning of their trial. The purpose being to establish a quantifiable baseline of their attitudes and feelings to certain aspects of their working life. Subsequent questionnaires were sent at the mid point and the end of the trial. Additionally, each participant was required to nominate some colleagues to take part in this monitoring process. Nominated colleagues were also required to complete these questionnaires. The purpose of including the line managers and colleagues was to establish whether the participants’ new attendance patterns had any effect on those who worked with them.

In addition, qualitative feedback has been collected throughout the trial. This information has been gathered both informally, and by two specific face to face checkpoint events in November 1998 and March 1999.

The key points captured from these checkpoint meetings are as follows:

  • 100% of participants and their line managers felt increased loyalty to BT as a result of Freedom to Work.
  • One person turned down a better paid job offer as a result of the flexibility offered by participating in the trial.
  • Team performance increased overall due to better succession planning/cover
  • People want to transfer into the area offering Freedom to Work. It has thus become a differentiator affecting where people would like to work.
  • Flexibility on the part of participants, managers and colleagues is key.
  • Great benefits are realised for teams working with customers/colleagues across time zones, eg India or USA.
  • Increased coverage can be achieved for teams providing user/technical support.
  • Good communication between manager and participant is essential
  • Individuals are empowered to take control of their lives.


Whilst BT policy already supports a range of flexible working patterns, research has shown that there is often a reluctance on the part of individuals to take them up, or even make a request to do so. The dominant culture is still one of ‘presenteeism’ with rewards often going to those who are seen to put in the longest hours. There may also be a reluctance on the part of line managers to grant requests given they do not have confidence in effectively managing a team with diverse working patterns. Initiatives such as Freedom to Work are making a tangible contribution to raising awareness, creating a ‘can do’ climate and changing this culture.

All participants agreed that they are more motivated as a result of taking part in Freedom to Work because they feel that it has helped them to achieve a better quality of life, both at work and at home.

What Next?

The project is receiving widespread publicity throughout BT and has the full support of our Equal Opportunities Steering Group and Unions. The success of the trial has encouraged other Groups to explore how they may also seize the benefits created by Freedom to Work. BT believes this will enable greater opportunity for increased productivity and balance.

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