is modern life in the Western world:
levels are on an ever-upward trend
work longer hours than ever
an increasing proportion of households both partners go out
parents have to work all hours to make ends meet.
throughout the last century foretold a coming age of leisure,
where automation and computing took the strain, liberating us
for rich, rewarding and balanced lives.
But it has failed to materialise.
Instead, those of us in employment work harder and
longer. Those of us
who don't work live in straitened circumstances, unable to enjoy
the enforced leisure and domesticity.
it have to be like that?
aside the question of redistributing wealth - which seems to be
on no major political party's agenda - the solution has to
revolve around how we organise our working lives.
the first step is recognising that the answer is "No, it
doesn't have to be like that" - if employers and employees
are willing to be flexible.
benefits can be felt in three areas:
can reduce stress, and become more productive and motivated,
and happier, as they achieve a better work-life balance
can boost staff morale, and introduce practices which are
more efficient and effective
excluded groups who of necessity have to prioritise home
life (e.g. because of caring responsibilities) may gain
access to employment opportunities with companies which
allow a better balance.
following sections illustrate how flexible work can help to take
the strain and redress the balance.
Arrangements for flexible hours working can
be of particular benefits for parents with younger children, who
need taking to and from school, or people with other caring
are a wide range of models of flexible hours arrangement, which
allow employees greater or lesser autonomy.
Simply not having to be at the office at 9.00 in the
morning can relieve much of the stress of domestic management.
Travelling outside of the rush-hour can take stress out
the beginning and end of the day.
For most people, there are times when
working full-time causes excessive conflict with other life
work should be an attainable option - without loss of benefits
or becoming marginalised in the organisation.
Part-time work is particularly beneficial for people with
substantial caring commitments, or who are returning to work
after looking after young children.
Jobshare is a particular type of collective
part-time arrangement, where an individual can be assured that
the job is being carried out properly by someone else when
they are not working. Organisations
should look to part-time work and jobsharing as a means of
retaining skilled staff whose skills might otherwise be lost.
Term-time working is a particularly
family-friendly policy, and which is suitable for more people
than teachers. Many people take their holidays, or unpaid leave, or flex
strategic absences around school holidays.
It has benefits for both employers and employees to
Working from home has many advantages for
people with heavy domestic responsibilities.
In the majority of instances, this is not full-time, but
appropriate tasks can be undertaken from home - usually with
productivity benefits. It
is almost impossible to work effectively and care for
children at the same time - but home based working can
make the organisation and management of childcare much easier
and less stressful. It
also enables contact with children at crucial times of their
day, rather than dashing out of the house as they do, and not
being there when they return.
A worker free of parental guilt may be a
happier and more motivated worker. Home-based working
combined with time-based flexibility can ensure that an employee
is always equipped to get on with some work.
Alternatively, if employees have the
opportunity to work locally, in a local office or telecentre,
this can help them achieve a more balanced lifestyle.
And the local offices or telecentres will also serve the
needs of other itinerant workers, and/or bring services closer
to customers in a particular location.
Parental leave may be advantageous at times
other than the birth of a new baby.
For a family, paternal leave can be important less for
the new born child than for the care of older siblings.
Parental leave by its nature is intended to cope with
times of particular stress or change in the family.
are not, of course "magic wand" solutions. Particular arrangements have to be put in place to ensure
continuity of work
monitoring and supervision
communications with staff operating flexibly
arrangements for all staff (i.e. not implementing flexible
arrangements only for those with families)
of existing rights and benefits.
Superficially most of these working
practices appear to benefit the employee and potentially cause
problems for the employer.
The point is that, when implemented as
part of a holistic approach to new ways of working, improved
work-life balance for staff can be delivered alongside tangible
and managing change