Employers and work-life balance

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Work-life balance – Jargon buster

An A-Z of work-life balance words is below. To find out more about policies you can implement, e.g. different types of flexible working patterns, look in the drop-down box.

Alphabetical listing

  • Annualised hours – contractual working hours are expressed in the total number of hours to be worked per year, allowing flexible working patterns throughout the year.
  • Business and/or life coaching – the employer offers support from a trained mentor, normally based outside the firm, either over the phone or face-to-face. The employee has regular sessions with their coach who advises on issues relating to business and personal goals.


  • Career breaks – a break from employment with an organisation, usually following maternity leave. The contract of employment ceases but the individual and organisation remain in contact at agreed intervals. The individual has a set amount of time (say 1, 3 or 5 years) during which they can decide whether or not to return to work, although their job may not always be held open Career breaks are increasingly being opened up to all employees including non-parents to facilitate personal development.
  • Childcare vouchers – these vouchers, given, sold by employers to parents at a reduced cost or substituted for a part of salary, enable working parents to save money on childcare. As such, they are a good way of encouraging staff retention, particularly among women returning from maternity leave. The Government does not expect employers to pay National Insurance on the vouchers thus enabling them to pass the 10% saving on to their employees. Parents can buy each £10 voucher for £9 and can then spend the vouchers on any form of legal childcare, including childminders, nurseries, nannies, family relatives and out-of-school schemes for the over 5’s.
  • Company fitness centre – this is a gym or health club either owned by or outsourced by a company for use by employees. The gym is usually based on-site.
  • Concierge services / Lifestyle management services – the employer buys in the services of a company that assists employees in managing their busy home lives by doing time-consuming tasks for them. Tasks can range from dog walking to sourcing emergency childcare or organising a wedding. The cost varies according to the level of service; at the highest level, concierge companies will find you a private jet for hire within 24 hours.
  • Consolidated hours – contractual full-time hours are worked in 4 longer days instead of 5 days.
  • Core hours – hours (say 10am to 4pm) during which flexitime workers must be engaged in work.
  • Emergency leave – employees have the right to take a reasonable period of time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant, such as a child, and not be dismissed or victimised for doing so. The DTI document Family emergency? Your right to time off (PL506) provides more details.
  • Employee assistance programmes – these organisations offer a mix of counselling, concierge services and information on everything from finding schools to help with bereavement. Employers pay a subscription so that employees can phone for help at any time of the day or night. Employee assistance programmes also help businesses understand what their employees’ key stressors are so that they can address the root causes.
  • Family-friendly – any policy or practice deemed to help families spend more time together and/or enjoy a better quality of life.
  • Fixed-term contract – sometimes referred to as a short-term or temporary contract, this type of employment contract is established for a fixed period of time only. Contracts can have an end date and/or be renewable.
  • Flexible benefits – employees are offered a raft of benefits from which they can choose those that suit their circumstances and are appropriate to their life stage. This may mean that an employee can buy more holiday days, increase their healthcare benefits, or buy leisure or retail vouchers at a reduced rate. Employees decide which benefits they want on an annual basis and those benefits then remain in force for a year.
  • Flexible working – any form of alternative working pattern that is negotiable between the employer and employee. Flexible working allows employees to meet personal commitments (such as dropping children off at school) and aspirations (such as doing a degree) and meet business demands.
  • Flexitime – a system permitting flexibility of working hours at the beginning or end of the day. Employees must work the ‘core hours’ set by the company and complete an agreed total number of hours.
  • Holiday purchase scheme – a scheme that enables employees to buy an additional number of days’ holiday on top of their annual entitlement. The cost of a day’s holiday will usually vary according to salary and be taken out of an employee’s annual pay. There is usually a limit to the number of days that can be bought.
  • Home working – by arrangement with the employer, the employee works from home either all or part of the working week. Home workers can be full- or part-time employees. The employer normally provides technological facilities in the home worker’s home.
  • Improved maternity provisions – provisions provided by the employer that are in excess of the statutory minimum. Examples include higher pay whilst on maternity leave or offering a ‘returnee’s bonus’.
  • In-house occupational health provisions – the provision of work-related health facilities enabling employees to have medicals (either prior to recruitment or on request), health checks and get advice on health issues.
  • Job share – an arrangement by which the responsibilities of one job are split between two part-time workers.
  • Mentoring – the employer provides personal coaching from a trained mentor, who is either an employee or from an outside firm, to support the employee with career-related issues.
  • On-site childcare facilities / On-site crèche – the employer has a nursery or crèche at the place of employment for staff with children. Such facilities reduce time travelling to and from work, since parents don’t have to drop off and pick up their children elsewhere, and employees can visit their children at lunchtimes. Crèches and nurseries save time and reduce anxiety in case of illness or emergencies.
  • Parental leave – leave that parents or adoptive parents (both men and women) can take by law to care for their child after its arrival or adoption. Employers must allow parents to take the statutory minimum length of unpaid leave, but some offer enhanced provisions, such as paid leave.
  • Part-time working – working fewer hours than the normal number of full-time hours set by an organisation but with the same status as a full-time worker.
  • Private healthcare benefits – the employer buys in healthcare services from a private healthcare firm, to enable employees to receive free healthcare benefits, or benefits at a reduced cost.
  • Sabbatical – a period of unpaid leave granted at intervals for rest, study or travel. Can also be described as a career break, but is usually taken for reasons of personal development (or perhaps health) rather than to care for a child. Sabbaticals were originally granted only to academics.
  • Self-managed working – employees manage their own working pattern and time to deliver agreed outputs.
  • Shift working – the working day is split into shifts (say of 12pm to 8pm and 8pm to 4am) enabling operational hours to be extended. Employees work one shift a day; they can be full- or part-time workers.
  • Subsidised healthcare or complementary therapies – the employer offers therapies, such as massage or osteopathy, at a reduced cost to employees. The therapist usually visits the workplace once or twice a week.
  • Teleworking / Telecommuting – the use of technology, such as computers and telephones, to enable employees to work from home while maintaining contact with colleagues, customers or a central office.
  • Term-time contracts – contractual working hours are established during school terms only and school holidays are not worked. Pay can be averaged out over 12 monthly instalments or paid only for time worked, i.e. the employee does not receive pay during school holidays. The contract of employment continues during school holidays.
  • Time in lieu provisions – employees take time off as a form of compensation for hours they have worked in addition to their contractual hours. Employees take time off in proportion to the number of extra hours worked, so 10 hours’ additional work would equate to 10 hours’ time in lieu. They do not receive overtime pay.
  • Time sovereignty – the control an individual has over their work and workload, including when, where and how they work. The more autonomy individuals have, the less stressed they are likely to be.
  • Unpaid leave – absence from work for a set period of time, as agreed between the employer and employee. The contract of employment remains in force but salary stops. The employer and employee need to discuss whether benefits, such as holiday accrual, continue or not.
  • Work-life balance – having a measure of control over when, where and how you work, leading to being able to enjoy an optimal quality of life. Work-life balance is achieved when an individual’s right to a fulfilled life inside and outside paid work is accepted and respected as the norm, to the mutual benefit of the individual, business and society.

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