The Work Life Manual

It makes good business sense for firms to make their staff feel good. This new study warns that firms who do not implement a ‘work-life strategy’ – defined as ‘helping people to combine work with family and personal life’ – actually lose competitive advantage to firms who do.

Why is it worth reading?
Changes in demographics, the structure and composition of the workforce, and the nature of the working day (nine-to-five days are a thing of the past) have led inevitably to changes in business and management strategies in recent years. ‘Balancing work demands with enough time and energy for other parts of people’s lives is a growing concern for everyone in today’s pressurized workplace,’ according to The Work-Life Manual.

This manual was commissioned by the Work-Life Research Centre in conjunction with the UK’s Industrial Society for the start of the new millennium. The study is the product of extensive research of existing studies and of consultation with expert human resources practitioners.

The book is designed for use by employers of all sizes across all sectors as a practical tool ‘to initiate, develop and maintain a strategy and culture of work-life balance’.

Co-author Lucy Daniels told us: ‘We set out to ask companies why they neglected family-friendly policies.’ According to Daniels, companies are scared of initiatives that would upset the way things are done and cost a lot.

The authors found existing work-life guides ‘rather jargony’ and wrote the Work-Life Manual to provide ‘a practical tool, a benchmark or standard using simple terminology’, says Daniels.

The manual does not change the way firms do things, she added, but it shows them how to make use of existing structures to improve the work-life balance.

Talking points
The Work-Life Manual is the latest study to give authority to the idea that firms can reap measurable financial rewards by actively introducing staff-friendly ‘work-life’ policies, an idea originated in Scandinavia and the US in the early 1990s.

‘Family-friendly policies’ alone are not enough. The manual argues that the most successful companies fully understand the ‘business rationale’ behind ‘work-life’ policies, and put formal structures in place that serve the ‘life’ needs of all their employees. These include ‘communication strategies’ – making sure managers and employees talk about work-life issues – in addition to investing money in promoting work-life policies and practices.

The benefits to firms are improved employee retention; a better-motivated workforce; a healthier, less-stressed workforce; an enhanced public image; and greater efficiency and productivity. Investment is not just about money.

‘Presenteeism’ is singled out for special attack by the manual’s authors. They define this as the culture of working long hours, or staying at work just for the show of it.

Many firms will probably take a while to be convinced by the idea that staff will increase their work and commitment if they are sent home early. But co-author Lucy Daniels was convinced that The Work-Life Manual would help change attitudes when she told the Financial Times in January 2000: ‘[The manual] has bags of statistics and evidence to scare the living daylights out of board members.’

The manual details the cost-savings for firms that implement work-life strategies. For example, it is estimated that the replacement cost for a disenchanted employee earning 9,000 is more than 5000.

Savings in other areas – fewer days of costly sick leave each year, lower levels of stress and so on – can be measured in terms of increased productivity and profitability.

At Andersen Consulting, the introduction of a Global Retention Taskforce in 1998 concerned with bringing in a lifestyle balance has apparently increased productivity. The attrition or exit rate has fallen, as planned.

Other statistics are shocking. If the guide is to be believed, 50% of working fathers spend less than five minutes a day enjoying one-to-one contact with their children.

‘Few large organizations are mainstreaming these issues successfully and very few medium or small businesses look beyond the minimum statutory requirements expected of them in terms of employment legislation.’

‘Good people management has direct bottom line benefits in terms of overall business performance.’

What others say
Cherie Booth QC: ‘Finding innovative ways of organizing our working lives is vital if we are to have a healthy, successful and balanced future’ and help firms ‘stay ahead in a competitive world’.

Lucy Daniels and Lucy McCarraher work for the Work-Life Research Centre, based in London. This virtual research center is committed to promoting fresh and creative approaches to the relationship between work, the home and the community. Its researchers are experts in a number of fields including management science, organizational psychology, sociology, economic and social policy.

The Work-Life Manual, by Lucy Daniels and Lucy McCarraher, was published in January 2000 by the Industrial Society. ISBN 1 85835 875 2.

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