Work-life balance

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Does your business promote good work-life balance for all employees?


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Work-life balance is about managing work responsibilities to enable, facilitate and allow adequate time for family, leisure and rest. The exact nature of this social life and where and how to strike the right balance is different for every individual. However, it’s clear that for many employees, being given control over how they structure their time can often facilitate positive work-life balance. Ensuring workers have the chance to switch off increases the likelihood they are more productive when in the workplace, in turn benefiting the employer.

Between 1870 and 1970, working hours approximately halved. The eight-hour working day was won, the school leaving age rose, more people studied, for longer, and retirement was introduced. However, in this increasingly 24/7 global economy, when consumers expect goods and services around the clock, businesses work across time zones and companies have access to the internet, work-life balance is coming under renewed pressure.

In this context, it is increasingly being recognised that work-life balance is important. A study of 7000 middle aged civil servants found that those who worked over 11 hours a day were 67% more likely to develop coronary heart disease compared to their colleagues who worked 8 hours. Poor work-life balance standards across the labour market inhibit those with caring responsibilities - whether children, or aging parents - from participating actively and fully in paid work. In the UK, 41% of workers feel their job sometimes or always prevents them giving enough time to their family . For business, 11.7 million working days are lost due to stress each year. When employees have effective work-life balance, they take fewer sick days and are increasingly loyal to their company and more productive hour by hour.

Facilitating positive work-life balance also makes a company attractive to prospective employees: when looking for a job, 86% of European workers believe that finding a job that allows them to combine work and family is important or very important. When mothers feel they have positive work-life balance they are only half as likely to reduce their hours after having children.

Companies can give the option of flexible working practices to support employees being in control of their own schedules. Compressed hours, where a typical week’s worth of hours are worked over fewer days, are one such solution. When the state of Utah trialled a 4 day 40 hour week for all public employees, 85% reported that they prefered this to a five day week. Companies may also offer job shares where two or more members of staff cover the work of one full time job, term-time only work, and the option to work from home.

However, making these options available to staff is unlikely to be sufficient on its own. Flexible working practices for individuals need to be facilitated by companies so, for example, support for one employee does not result in the overloading of his or her colleagues. Further, the overarching culture within a business is critical. If employees feel guilty about taking up flexible working options, or believe that stigma that they’re not working hard enough may harm their career or relationships with colleagues, they will be less likely to take up work-life balance options.

Beyond day to day flexible options, companies can support their staff by giving extended parental leave, and by offering carers leave. They can also facilitate staff gaining new skills by volunteering during work time, or by giving the option of sabbaticals. Companies can also support parents in the workplace by providing subsidised childcare either on site, or elsewhere. Other provisions to support work-life balance may also include benefits, such as gym membership, cycle to work schemes and sponsorship for learning non-work-related skills, such as funding for evening classes.

When it comes to work-life balance, flexible working practices are not always better practices. Blurring boundaries between work and home can lead to the practice of ‘grazing’ where employees are constantly monitoring their smartphones, answering emails and taking calls in their free time. ‘Grazing’ means that employees’ stress and anxiety levels don’t return to base level during time off. In order to tackle this phenomenon, France introduced its ‘right to disconnect’ law at the start of 2017. French companies with more than 50 employees are now required to negotiate staff’s access to work communications at home. Some companies, including Daimler, have taken this a step further and even automatically delete emails sent to staff who are on holiday.

A more radical alternative is to shorten the working day altogether. Trials in Sweden of 6 hour working days have been successful in decreasing levels of absence amongst nurses. The nurses were also able to organise 85% more activities with elderly residents, and put this increase down to heightened energy levels. Similarly, at Toyota’s service centres in Gothenburg, shifts have been 6 hours long since 2003, because it was found that workers could be more productive in a 6-hour stint than an 8-hour shift - profits have risen by 25%, which the managing director attributes to the change.

Flexible working patterns

'Flexible working patterns' give employees the opportunity to organise when and where they work. They include:

  • Flexible hours, where staff come in or leave within an agreed range of times without affecting the actual number of hours an individual works, e.g. starting early to leave early
  • Compressed hours, where employees work their agreed working hours in fewer days, e.g. working 10 hours a day over 4 days to achieve a 40-hour week
  • Consideration given, where appropriate, to a reduction in hours
  • Home working, where employees are able to work at home for an agreed number of hours or days each week
  • Job share, where two employees share the responsibilities of one full-time job, with pay and benefits reflecting the number of hours each works
  • Career breaks, where employees take paid or unpaid extended leave or sabbaticals for a mutually agree period
  • Volunteering, where staff have time off during normal working hours for them to engage in a voluntary capacity for a charity or other such civil society organisation
  • Maternity, paternity or adoption leave when employers may allow leave beyond a statutory minimum
  • Allowing time for caring, such as an adjusted work schedules for people who care for dependants.

'Grazing' refers to the practice of continuously refreshing emails and taking calls out of work time - it means that employees don’t fully relax or focus on other things.


'Presenteeism' is being present at work for more hours than required, or when sick. It’s being seen to be there even when you’re not being productive. It’s typically a manifestation of feelings of insecurity about one’s job.


'Teleworking' refers to using technology (smartphones, laptops, internet) to work out of the office.

Work Life Balance

When a person has 'work-life balance', they have the proper amount of time for their work and career, and also their family, personal life, social life, leisure etc. What’s ‘proper’ depends on the person, but the basic principle of work life balance is that a person has enough time and energy for both.

Work-life conflict

'Work-life conflict' refers to the feeling of or the experience of work and other roles and responsibilities conflicting, putting the person in a situation where they have to choose one to the detriment of another. It is a symptom of poor work-life balance, and the extent to which employees experience such conflict can be tracked to determine the state of work-life balance in an organisation.

Answering YES

All Businesses MUST

Describe their workplace culture and ways in which it allows for and/or promotes a healthy work-life balance

Describe all relevant workplace policies and practices

Explain how these policies and practices are communicated to employees

Describe the extent to which work-life balance policies are taken up by staff at all levels in the organisation

All Businesses MAY

State any business philosophy or values which govern or influence their approach to work-life balance

Explain how they take into account the potential effects that flexible working patterns may have on co-workers

Explain the considerations given to longer-term impacts on individual career development

Describe the extent that workers at various levels work beyond 40 hours per week

Explain the extent that employees are expected to, or do answer emails and take calls outside of working hours and when on holiday

Answering NO

All Businesses MUST

Explain why they do not meet the requirements to answer YES to the question, listing the business reasons, any mitigating circumstance or any other reasons that apply

All Businesses MAY

List any practices that are relevant, but not sufficient to answer YES

Mention any future intentions regarding this issue


All Businesses MUST

Confirm that they are made up of directors only and have no employees

DON'T KNOW is not a permissible answer to this question

Version 3

To receive a score of 'Excellent'

Work-life balance is a strategic business issue

Examples or indicators of EXCELLENT policies and practice include:

  1. Clear statement of philosophy or values
  2. Promoting high quality work-life balance is key to the company’s strategy
  3. Levels of overtime, burnout and work-related stress are significantly lower than at other organisations in the sector
  4. There are instances of flexible working arrangements being utilised at all levels of the company
  5. The company has taken radical steps to promote work-life balance, for instance cutting down the working day
  6. Companies offer bespoke arrangements to fit the differing needs of their employees
  7. Positively manage people to maximise benefits of flexible working
  8. Colleagues receive full and adequate support so that they are not overloaded when others take advantage of flexible working options.
  9. Corporate membership to recreation clubs, gyms, holiday resorts offered
  10. Supporting or sponsoring individuals who want to develop interests and/or skills, such as participating in some adventure, work with a charity, etc.
  11. Offering facilities for senior citizens, child-care, religious practices, etc.
  12. Offering support and services for employees who are suffering from stress, burnout, depression, etc
  13. Holiday time is consistently used up
  14. Provision of sick pay and financial protection in sudden emergencies
  15. Policies are regularly reviewed, using evidence such as levels of overtime, take up rates of flexible working practices and use of holiday time
  16. Cited as example of best practice by other businesses
  17. Policies in place to protect time off, minimise grazing, and to discourage working longer than contracted hours.
  18. Clear efforts are made by management to promote switching off
  19. Regular audits and reviews of policies and arrangements with feedback from employees
  20. Senior leaders set positive examples on work life balance, and actively encourage employees to take time off
  21. Managing your own work-life balance is seen as a positive competency.
  22. Training is provided to both staff members and line managers on how to effectively implement work-life balance practices
  23. The employer has the responsibility of justifying why flexible working requests are denied, rather than the employee having to make the case for their request
  24. Policies across different operating territories are consistently good or excellent
  25. Take-up of work-life balance policies is not restricted to one group of people within the organisation, eg. senior staff, men, call centre staff
  26. Company is aware of challenges of employees working under different arrangements, and has policies in place to manage this
To receive a score of 'Good'

The business has established clear practices for work-life balance

Examples or indicators of GOOD policies or practice include:

  1. Various flexible working practices are evident, such as job sharing, compressed hours and homeworking that fit differing needs of employees.
  2. Options for work-life balance widely disseminated across organisation
  3. Clear processes in place for requesting flexible working
  4. Monitoring annual holiday balances and encouraging employees to take leave
  5. Consideration given to longer-term impacts on individual career development
  6. Addresses impact on work patterns of co-workers
  7. Staff engaged in developing options and policies
  8. Training offered on work-life balance (e.g. life coaching)
  9. Levels of overtime, burnout and work related stress are lower than at other organisations in the sector
  10. Staff are encouraged to ‘switch off’ from work calls and emails when they’re not at work
  11. Colleagues are well supported, so they are usually able to handle others taking advantage of flexible working options.
  12. Training is provided to line managers on how to effectively implement work-life balance practices
To receive a score of 'Okay'

The business has ad hoc policies or procedures for dealing with work-life balance or has made a statement of no employees

Examples of OKAY policies and practice include:

  1. Legal requirements for flexible working hours met
  2. Flexible hours granted whenever appropriate
  3. Processes for time-in-lieu
  4. Some evidence of promoting a good work-life balance
  5. Working hours not flexible but good reason given
  6. Colleagues are not adequately supported, and so one employee improving their work life balance has a negative impact on others.
  7. Culture of presenteeism
  8. Flexible working arrangements are available but they are still the exception, seen as a ‘favour’
  9. Flexible working arrangements are predominantly used by women to facilitate childcare
  10. Work-life balance policies are not available across the whole company
  11. No employees
To receive a score of 'Poor'

No evidence of policies or practices regarding work-life balance

Examples of POOR policies and practice include:

  1. Acknowledges that performance is below expectations
  2. Statement of future intent to improve
  3. Working hours not flexible without good reason given
  4. Taking advantage of flexible working options results in harm to an employee’s career
  5. Employees are expected to work extended hours
  6. Employees are pressured to sign up to opt out of the 48 hour legal working limit
  7. Employees are pressured into not taking the full allowance of holiday time
  8. A culture of presenteeism exists
  9. Flexible hours are imposed on employees and do not guarantee a fixed income
  10. Practices associated with work-life balance are implemented in such a way that harms the wellbeing of employees, such as requiring employees to be ‘on call’ outside working hours