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Work life balance

Last updated: 10 May 2022

The structure of the labour market in the UK has changed dramatically over the past few years, and employers have to think of innovative ways to retain, motivate and reward their staff. While the UK is notorious for having the longest working hours in Europe, many companies now recognise that working longer is not necessarily better: working more efficiently, and ensuring a work life balance is far preferable. Although owners of small companies in particular may be resistant to this idea, a more flexible work-life balance can mean increased productivity, improved recruitment and retention, lower rates of absenteeism, reduced overheads and a more motivated, satisfied and equitable workforce. Definitely worth considering then!

People work best when they achieve a balance between work and life, and are more motivated and satisfied. One recent study revealed a 49% increase in productivity when a work-life balance policy was introduced. BT saved £3m in recruitment costs, after 98% of women returned to work after maternity leave, simply by introducing a work life balance that women wanted. Other companies have found absenteeism reduced significantly.

Put simply a work-life balance is about people having a measure of control over when, where and how they work. Its not just working mothers who want a work-life balance – graduates have shown to value flexibility more than pay when looking at prospective employers, according to the 2003 UK Graduate Careers survey, and workers who have more say over their working time feel less stressed more satisfied and more committed to their work than those with no control over working time.

The structure of the labour market will continue to change and companies will need to consider ways of retaining valued staff. Many people remain in full or part-time education for longer and more and more people opt to retire early. Furthermore the largest growth in the job market between 1990 and 2000 occurred among mothers with young children. To recruit these people, employers need to impress them and encourage them back into the workforce with flexible working. Younger workers also tend to look at an organisation’ track record on corporate social responsibility and are not afraid to negotiate flexible hours. While jobs in the service sector have risen by 36% (and manufacturing jobs have fallen 39%) the intensity of work has increased i.e. work is carried out faster. Changes in technology give employers more flexibility in the way the ask people to work, and people can work from home with a laptop and a phone.

While many employers will look favourable on flexible working, many will not. For a new company, with an erratic order book, it can be difficult, and it certainly will not suit all firms. But there are benefits to the company and demographics show that this is going to become an increasingly important issue. More and more women are entering the labour market, the population is ageing and people are continuing to demand that their employers give more flexibility. If companies can drop the automatic assumption that long hours are always a demonstration of commitment and quality, and commit to offering a work-life balance and career progression to talented individuals, these organisations will gain competitive advantage.

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