Employers and work-life balance

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Employers and Work-life Balance

The Rt. Hon. Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry

Many factors combine to make a truly great company. However, at the centre of any outstanding organisation, whatever its size, you will find its most valuable and important asset - people.

Over the last decade there has been a revolution in the workplace. Now that women make up almost half the workforce, the relationship between work and family life has altered dramatically and the rest of the world of work must catch up.

Allowing people to work in a sensible way that allows them to balance earning a living with looking after their children is not only good for families and children, it is good for business too.

And more and more businesses are realising this. In our recent work-life balance survey, more than nine out of ten employers agree that people will work best when they can strike a healthy balance between work and the rest of their lives.

The Investors in People UK Work-Life Balance Model, together with the DTI’s Work Life Balance Challenge Fund, will help turn this support into practical reality.

Employers for Work-Life Balance has played an essential role in getting across the message that offering flexible working practices has serious benefits for a business’ bottom line. There is nothing like a business that has flourished with flexible working to persuade other businesses to try it out. For example, family friendly initiatives at HSBC, in particular the childcare programme, have proved highly successful by supporting the business through retention of skilled staff. The bank supports the childcare programme with other work-life balance initiatives such as part-time and flexible working, job sharing, paternity and family leave. Providing a childcare programme has contributed considerably to reducing the number of women who leave after maternity from 70% to 15% in 13 years at HSBC. I hope the individual members of EfWLB will continue to develop flexible working within their own organisations and be active participants in the wider debate.

Although there are many excellent examples of businesses operating modern flexible workplaces, there are still too many organisations where an old-fashioned long hours culture still prevails. And this costs us dearly. Despite working the longest hours in Europe our productivity levels are one of the lowest and stress related sickness costs British business around £12billion every year.

That is why, on 6 April 2003, we introduced the largest ever package of family friendly measures. These new rights will give parents with young and disabled children more choice and support to help them balance their responsibilities in a way that is good for businesses and families. The best practice work pioneered by EfWLB and now underpinned by the Investors in People UK Work-Life Balance Model and The Work Foundation will be essential in expanding the opportunities to work flexibly.

I am tremendously grateful for the work of EfWLB, and look forward to taking our campaign forward with The Work Foundation, supported by Investors in People.

The Rt. Hon. Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry

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© Work-Life balance part of The Work Foundation 2005