A company’s own managers are the main obstacle to it achieving the widely acknowledged benefits of work/life balance policies.
Employers that have introduced policies aimed at helping staff balance their home and work lives have reported a range of benefits from reduced absenteeism and staff turnover to increased productivity.
But a report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says many managers are still hostile to adopting such an approach.
The report, Getting the Right Work/Life Balance, was based on case studies of 12 organisations in East Anglia. It suggests managers tend to automatically anticipate problems when requests for flexible arrangements such as flexi-time, part-time working, or compressed hours are put to them for consideration.
According to the report, their reluctance is often based on fears of increased numbers of customer complaints, lack of flexibility or reduced productivity.
Mike Emmott, CIPD advisor on employee relations, said recruitment difficulties, particularly in senior technical and professional jobs, were one of the main reasons firms were increasingly opting for work/life balance policies.
But he said it was vital the introduction of policies was not left to individual line managers.
He said: ‘Where the final decision on whether to agree to flexible work/life arrangements is left entirely to line managers, this can often lead to unfairness and inconsistency.’Employers need to adopt specific policies and embed these in company culture. Formal policies encourage employees to take advantage of arrangements and help dispel negative attitudes.’
Speaking at CIPD’s annual conference at Harrogate last week, Bob Mason, senior vice-president of human resources at BT Wireless, said work/life balance policies should be seen as a vital tool in the war for talent rather than an altruistic practice.
He said a survey carried out following retention problems at a particular plant asked a sample of 20 staff what their ideal hours would be. ‘Every one was different but when we looked at the responses we realised we could accommodate every single one of them,’ he said.
A pilot project based on the survey results, which gave each employee the chance to work the hours of their choice has been successfully extended to around 3,000 employees.