Striking a balance

coincide with Work-Life Balance Week, we asked the training community what role
it could play in maintaining the equilibrium

Managing work-life balance is one of today’s great challenges as an
increasingly frenetic workplace takes its toll on people’s health,
relationships and well-being. According to the Work-Life Balance Trust, 80 per
cent of visits to doctors in the UK are stress related. This isn’t just bad
news for individuals: it loses 7 million workdays for British industry each year,
and the annual cost of absenteeism is a staggering £5bn.

The trust’s annual Work-Life Balance Week (1-5 September) is designed to
raise awareness of the issues and spur firms into action. We asked academics
employers and trend-spotters to share their opinions with readers and to ensure
that the effects of the week last longer than five days.

Claire McCartney
Researcher, Roffey Park

Some organisations take advantage of Work-Life Balance Week to run
conferences or workshops, perhaps on flexible working or stress and time
management. Some include fun activities such as yoga or massage, to slow people
down and attract their interest.

Work-life balance is not just about hours and workload; it is about having
control over what you do, and training can help people to achieve that control.
Staff surveys are vital if you are to identify any hot spots and do something
about them.

You also need to review current training. Is it working? What do people
want? Have any areas been overlooked? Make sure you don’t alienate staff by
catering for people with apparent special needs, such as parents, while
neglecting everyone else.

Tracey Carr
Managing director, Eve-olution

How effective the trainers can be depends on the culture of the
organisation. In a recent survey we conducted with health management firm
Vielife, 72 per cent of respondents felt flexible working and job share options
impeded career advancement, so we still need a huge cultural shift.

People are most productive when they feel happy and motivated, and are getting
something out of life at work as well as at home. We have the longest working
hours in Europe and the lowest productivity rate – could there be a link?

Alison Straw
Head of organisational development, Selfridges

Our philosophy is based on this premise: how many people on their deathbed
wish they had spent longer in the office? We encourage managers to challenge
the need for excessive hours. They are also expected to be role models of
balance themselves, and to know their teams well enough to recognise when they
are overdoing things.

Our responsibility in learning and development is to give managers the
skills to create realistic performance targets, and to provide feedback when
balance is not achieved.

Some of our operational staff now work from home. They appreciate spending
less time in the van and the business benefits too. However, there are
practical implications, and our line manager training includes specific
sessions to address them. How do you communicate with people you rarely see?
How do you motivate them or evaluate their performances? They also need to be
prepared mentally for losing the chance to socialise with colleagues or talk
with the boss.

Annette Andrews
Diversity manager, Europe, Ford Motor Company

One of our engineering line managers was so concerned about high stress
levels among his employees, he created a workshop to help his managers tackle

What is significant is that it was driven by the bottom line and based on the
principle of empowering managers to be flexible and make decisions without
relying on HR policies and directives. They also commit to cascading the
information to their staff through half-day programmes.

The workshops have been so successful we designed a generic model, which we
are currently rolling out across Europe.

Ken Blanchard
Chairman, Ken Blanchard Companies

To achieve work-life balance, people must enter their day more slowly. Take
time for solitude, prayer, exercise – whatever helps them decide who they want
to be that day.

One company I know doesn’t allow staff to make or receive calls between
8-9am. They spend that hour planning their day and thinking ahead, which they
have found really helpful.

If you don’t carve out time for your reflective self, you get caught up in
the rat race. The trouble with that is even if you win, you are still a rat.

Further information

Work-Life Balance Week:

The Evo-lution and vielife survey:,

Roffey Park’s new handbook: Work-Life Balance: A Guide for Organisations is
available from:
During Work-Life Balance Week, Roffey Park’s website ( has a dedicated portal
with articles on the theme and information on what companies are doing.

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