Employers and work-life balance

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A woman’s work is never done
and when one working day finishes – another begins at home

Employers are more understanding of the importance of helping their staff achieve work-life balance, according to new research from The Work Foundation, in association with Employers for Work-Life Balance (EfWLB). But for many women the problem remains that when one working day finishes, another begins at home.

For the last three years EfWLB – an alliance of 22 UK companies – has promoted the business benefits of work-life balance within the business community. It disbands on Wednesday 5 June and passes its awareness-raising brief to The Work Foundation. The Work Foundation report – About Time for Change – was specially commissioned to mark the handover. It is based on a survey of 500 respondents and investigates their feelings about work-life balance.

It finds that employers are responsive to the case for better work-life balance – three out of five people say that their employer would support all employees, with or without children, being able to work flexibly. But within the home women still have the greater share of domestic responsibility. And as a result they are often doing a double shift.

They are over three and a half times more likely than men to report that they do most of the household tasks themselves, and over 12 times more likely to report that they do most of the childcare.

The case for equality in the home isn’t helped by the fact that women generally earn less than their partners. Amongst couples – those earning the lowest and those whose career takes the lowest priority in a household are more likely to do the childcare and housework. But economic clout gives women more clout at home – the survey shows that couples whose salaries and career priorities were equally matched tended to share domestic responsibilities more evenly.

Alexandra Jones, author of the research, says: ‘The work-life balance debate is about people having more control over their work and is relevant to the entire workforce. However it is clear that women in particular continue to manage a range of responsibilities and are being pulled in two directions. They are entering the workforce in greater numbers than ever before, and sharing financial responsibility. But equality hasn’t worked in the other direction, and women are finding themselves in a double bind that often traps them into remaining in lower paid jobs, and putting their careers second. Work-life balance is crucial to help both men and women manage this situation’

Buying flexibility with domestic help

Over two-thirds of respondents want to spend more time with their families. The research shows that it’s not just parents who want more family time; six out of 10 (64 per cent) employees without children also want to spend more time with family.

People are exhausted by their lifestyles. Over a third of full-time and part-time workers are so worn out by their work that they fall asleep on the sofa. And skills, development and education suffer too. Worryingly for employers, more than 50 per cent of full-time workers say they lack the time to do an evening class because of the hours they work. And over a quarter of full time workers exist on fast food, pre-prepared meals and snacks because they don’t have time to cook.

Large numbers of people are coping by outsourcing what they see as their domestic responsibilities, with one in ten working people employing someone to help with the housework, and one in five employing someone to help with the childcare.

Opportunities for organisations

The report, which features data from LloydsTSB, PricewaterhouseCoopers, BT and the Inland Revenue, shows that employers can benefit from meeting employee demands for better work-life balance. Introducing work-life balance practices is an opportunity to respond to external changes, such as the shift towards a 24/7 society, while engaging the workforce on the basis that there is ‘something in it for them’. In turn the organisation gains from improved motivation, productivity and staff recruitment and retention.
Most employees (54 per cent) no longer believe that work-life balance is just for parents and two out of five (41 per cent) of full-time workers say that they would be more productive if they were given more control over their time. One in five part-time workers gave a similar response, which indicates that working shorter hours doesn’t necessarily mean they feel in control of their time.

Peter Ellwood, chairman of Employers for Work-Life Balance says: ‘Work-life balance is commonly misperceived as simply being about the number of hours an individual works. The experience of EfWLB members is that successful work-life balance practice is actually about choice – allowing all employees more choice in how and when they work.

‘It is encouraging that more than half the respondents recognise that work-life balance isn’t just applicable to parents, but this hides the fact that nearly a third still think that way. There is clearly still work to do to persuade both employees and employers that work-life balance is beneficial to the entire workforce and therefore should sit at the heart of the organisation.’

Why the work-life balance issue won’t go away

As women continue to enter and progress through paid employment, childcare and work-life balance rise up the business agenda. An ageing population presents a dual challenge: it means that organisations will need to start looking at flexibility for older workers – whose experience is important but who may not want to work full time – while also providing flexibility for those with caring responsibilities for elderly parents.

Will Hutton, chief executive of The Work Foundation says: ‘The mass influx of women into paid employment, an aging workforce, new technologies, increasing competition and the intensification of customer demand mean that the workplace has changed beyond recognition. But the public debate about work-life balance often lags behind.

‘Employers can’t disregard the fact that whilst some employees enjoy working long hours, many want to spend more time with their families, or the experience of working women – caught between the twin pressures of work and home. Human beings need more than work in their lives if they are to stay sane. But its not just about civil society, individual sanity or allowing women to juggle their lives better. It is increasingly relevant to workplace performance and productivity. Without progress in this area, UK employees will continue to fare badly compared to workers in other European countries.’

Notes to editors:

  • The Work Foundation continues the tradition set by The Industrial Society to improve the productivity and quality of working life in the UK, with a unique fusion of research, consultancy and advocacy. The Work Foundation is wholly independent and holds not-for-dividend and Royal Charter status.
  • EfWLB was set up by 2000 by a group of 22 employers to promote the business benefits of work-life balance and provide advice on best practice in work-life balance procedures.
  • Will Hutton, chief executive of The Work Foundation and Peter Ellwood, chairman of EfWLB are available for interview.
  • 500 men and women were interviewed by telephone between April and May 2003

For further information please contact:

Memuna Forna, at The Work Foundation, tel: 020 7004 7224
Email: [email protected]

Saskia Walcott or Hayley Booth at Colman Getty PR, tel 020 7631 2666
email [email protected]


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