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Work-life balance – FAQs
1. What is work-life balance?
A. Work-life balance is about people having a measure of control over when, where and how they work, leading them to be 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.
For other terms in the debate see Jargon Buster
2. Why should business care?
A. Work-life balance business benefits include:
Improved recruitment and retention
Lower rates of absenteeism
An improved customer experience
A more motivated, satisfied and equitable workforce.
To put it in bottom line terms, employee costs are often at least 50 percent of a company’s expenditure, with replacement costing anything from £3,000 to £10,000 depending on seniority and level of technical skill.
3. Isn’t work-life balance just for parents – particularly mothers?
A. No, it’s an issue that’s rising up the agenda for everyone. For example, the 2003 UK Graduate Careers survey showed that graduates value flexibility more than pay when looking at prospective employers.
Having greater ‘time sovereignty’, or control over time, has a beneficial impact upon worker satisfaction. Workers who have more say over their working time feel less stressed and are more satisfied with and committed to their work. See The Work Foundation’s 2003 survey.
4. What about people who just love to work?
A. Work-life balance is not just for people who want to reduce their working hours. It’s about responding to individual circumstances to help individuals fulfil their responsibilities and aspirations. Many people love their work and for them the perfect ‘balance’ is working very long hours. The ideal ‘balance’ can also vary at different stages of the life cycle. For example, in your twenties you might be quite happy to work long hours in exchange for breaks to go travelling or to pursue a hobby; a few years down the line you may want to reduce your hours or have greater flexibility in how and when you work to fit in extra study or family responsibilities.
5. Doesn’t the work-life balance debate just demonise the workplace?
A. No. The Work Foundation has always argued for fulfilling work and has been a critic of any suggestion that ‘work’ is less good than ‘life’. Many people love their work and work long hours because that’s how they want to spend their time. The work-life balance debate recognises that there are different ways of working, and is trying to shift the idea that ‘long hours’ is the only way to demonstrate commitment. What the work-life balance debate is trying to do is to recognise that there are different ways of working, to show that ‘long hours’ does not necessarily mean you are the best at your job, and to enable people to work in different ways so that they can achieve their aspirations inside and outside paid work.
6. Is work-life balance just a fad?
A. No, demographics show that this is going to become an increasingly important issue. More and more women are entering the labour market, we have an ageing population and people are continuing to demand that their employers enable them to have a better work-life balance. See The Work Foundation’s report ‘About Time for Change’.
7. So has work-life balance been fully embraced by the business community?
A. No, not as yet. It is, however, making considerable progress. For example, over 40% of British working women work part-time, compared with an EU average of 28%. And About Time for Changefound that three-fifths of all full-time respondents agreed that their employer would enable anyone in the organisation to work flexibly. However this still leaves two-fifths of respondents not in that situation. More work still needs to be done.
8. Is there really a ‘long hours culture’ in the UK?
A. Statistics show that, whilst the UK has a high number of part-time workers, we also have a high number of people working very long hours, particularly fathers of young children. Although averaging hours out can disguise it, we still have a number of people working long hours – and not all of them wish to do so. Many organisations admit to having a long hours culture and this is something that they try to tackle when introducing work-life policies – shifting the focus from hours worked to outputs; see the case studies on the website. Lloyds TSB also state this:
“As well as helping the bank to meet its core strategic aims, Work Options [organisational work-life balance policies] is all about moving from a ‘long hours culture’, where attendance matters more than achievement, to an environment where people are valued for the results they deliver and the competencies they demonstrate.” Sally Evans, Head of Equality & Diversity, LloydsTSB. April 2003
9. Don’t people who work long hours do so because they want to?
A. Many people do want to work long hours. However, there is less of a ‘choice’ for those who need to work long hours to earn enough money, for those who have an enormous workload, and for those who feel they need to work long hours to demonstrate commitment. Work-life balance can offer individuals more choices as well as offering organisations greater flexibility in organising their resources.
10. Doesn’t a desire for work-life balance brand you as uncommitted and unmotivated?
A. This is one of the key issues that the work-life balance debate is seeking to tackle. In many workplaces there is an assumption that ‘long hours working’ is a demonstration of commitment and quality. Organisations focusing upon clients may also feel the need to work long hours to ensure a high quality of service. However, this does not necessarily mean either the best job is done or that talent can flourish. The work-life debate is trying to shift the focus from inputs – time – to outputs. This is an ongoing process; many employees continue to worry that working flexibly will mean they do not progress as quickly in their career. Some organisations are gaining competitive advantage in the recruitment market from this by offering work-life balance and career progression to talented individuals – so change is starting to happen.