Tory leader David Cameron touched a raw nerve when he announced earlier this year: "It's time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB - general wellbeing."
Meanwhile, the government is working on a raft of legislation that it hopes will create a healthier, less stressed-out population.
Recently, it launched yet another consultation as part of the government's wide-reaching Work and Families Act, this time looking at annual leave. It proposes extending the current minimum entitlement to four weeks' leave by adding the time equivalent to Bank and public holidays. Many employers already go beyond this proposed extension.
The Work and Families Act will also contain a number of amendments aimed at making it easier for staff with young families or caring responsibilities to continue working:
- As of 1 October 2006, statutory maternity pay will increase from 26 weeks to 39 weeks for women with babies due on or after 1 April 2007. All women who are due at this time will also be entitled to 26 weeks' additional maternity leave on top of their 26 weeks' ordinary maternity leave. This means pregnant women can take a full year off work regardless of how long they have been working for their employer.
- Women will also be able to go into work during their maternity leave for up to 10 'keep in touch' days without losing statutory maternity pay, as currently happens.
- Statutory adoption leave will extend from 26 weeks to 39 weeks for employees who are expecting to adopt on or after 1 April 2007.
- From 6 April next year, flexible working rights are to be extended to carers of adults in addition to parents of disabled children and those with children under six.
The government is also proposing that new fathers be entitled to additional paternity leave of up to 26 weeks and additional statutory paternity pay if the mother of their child has returned to work without using her full maternity leave. However, these proposals are still in consultation, and are not expected to come into force until at least April 2008.
Employers will have it easier too. In a bid to cut administration headaches, from October this year, statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay will be calculated on a daily, rather than weekly, basis.
But will this new legislation really encourage a culture change towards better work-life balance? Karen Black, partner at law firm Boodle H