Employers and work-life balance

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Media centre – FAQs

Q11. The phrase ‘work-life balance’ suggests there is an ideal balance that everyone should have.

A. This impression may have been gained from the phrase ‘work-life balance’, which is not without problems and could be seen as suggesting that there is an ideal balance, and that many people get it wrong. In reality The Work Foundation argues that the ideal ‘balance’ varies from individual to individual, and at different times of life. The debate needs to focus upon enabling people to have choices about how they manage their workload. But this also means changing workplace cultures; long hours is one way of working but should not be the only route to career progression.

Q12. What does ‘life’ mean in the phrase ‘work-life balance’?

A. ‘Life’ in the context of ‘work-life balance’ means everything outside paid work. The phrase is not without its problems as it is clear that, in reality, work is in life, and there are few clear boundaries between paid work and the rest of life anymore. Children are ill between 9 and 5pm; many bills get paid at work; many people work at home. Whether or not it is desirable, integration between work and life is happening and so the phrase is not entirely accurate in that sense.


Q13. Is there any legislation to help people get work-life balance?

A. Yes. New legislation has been introduced over the past five years, with the most recent regulations coming into force on 6 April 2003 and allowing parents of children under 6 to request the right to work flexibly. Organisations are required to consider this request provided it does not damage business. More details are available at Legislation

Q14. Don’t work-life balance policies favour parents?

A. Despite work-life balance being relevant to everyone, legislation up to this point has mainly focused upon working parents. Whilst research and organisational experience suggests there are much wider benefits to be gained from implementing policies relevant to everyone, current regulations only give certain working parents access to flexible working as a right, see Legislation.


Q15. Do employees without children get left out or have to work harder to make up for the time their colleagues with children take off?

A. Excluding employees without children from work-life policies means that organisations are not realising the full potential of enabling flexible working. However, as with any new form of work organisation, it needs careful implementation to ensure that it does not have a detrimental impact on other colleagues. Most organisations implement work-life balance policies on the basis of there being a ‘business case’ for someone working a different working pattern – part of which should consider the impact on colleagues. There also needs to be regular reviews of how it is working, and support for managers who may not be used to managing the different ways of working.

Q16. But work-life balance is just for big business, isn’t it?

A. No, in fact many small businesses are already very flexible about the way they work – partly because they have to be. IXL Laundry Services benefited from work-life policies both as Classic Cleaners, based in Kingston, Surrey, and now since they have moved to Derby and become IXL Laundry. For small businesses wondering where to start, our guide to Making a Case may help you get started.


Q17. Doesn’t work-life balance make companies uncompetitive?

A. Many organisations have found that work-life balance policies have made them more competitive in the recruitment market, have enabled them to respond to 24/7 demands and have either been cost-neutral or generated cost savings. Clearly it depends upon how the policies are implemented and the organisational context – but the case studies on the site suggest that organisations of different sizes and in different sectors have all benefited.

Q18. What is the Employers for Work-Life Balance website for?

A. EfWLB was set up by an alliance of employers – big and small – who believe that work-life balance is a relevant and valuable business concept. They campaigned to raise awareness of the business benefits of adopting a work-life balance approach and set up a website for employers wanting to take action on work-life balance.

The Work Foundation is now taking on the challenge of developing the EfWLB website and plan to shape future debates about how better work-life balance will happen, progressing understanding of work-life balance as a concept relevant to all and helping to create sustainable, productive and more equitable organisations. An advisory group, made up of some of the original members of the EfWLB, will continue to work with The Work Foundation in developing the site.


Q19. What has EfWLB achieved so far?

A. EfWLB has helped to elevate work-life balance issues to the forefront of the workplace debate. Over the past three years EfWLB has:

  • Partnered with Parents at Work to deliver a series of 10 regional seminars
  • Organised, jointly with government, the International Work-Life Balance summit in 2001 that attracted more than 150 delegates.
  • Produced a work-life guide for small businesses
  • Had 5 million hits on the website
  • Helped to inform government policy and initiatives on work-life balance, for example through its participation in the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Work-Life Balance.


Q20. What is the Work Foundation going to do to develop the site?

A. The Work Foundation aims to develop the website as a one-stop work-life resource for employers, managers, HR professionals, policy-makers and journalists. See what Will Hutton, Chief Executive of The Work Foundation, has to say about the debate.


Q21. How can employers work in partnership with unions to change the way we work?

Working in partnership with unions is key to successfully responding to the challenge of transforming a workplace. The partnership between the PCS and the Inland Revenue is a helpful recent example. The initiative was a response to the challenge of delivering a more accessible service and extending opening hours to the public, whilst at the same time helping staff to have a good balance between work and personal life. An outline of the process used and partnership model developed is available here.


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