Council wins staff loyalty with hours ‘ownership’ idea

Merton Council has extended its work-life balance initiative after a pilot
scheme helped improve productivity and reduce sickness absence.

In June, staff in the company’s lettings, revenue and benefits departments
were offered flexible hours. They can work their 35-hour week any time between
7am to 7pm each day, working from home where possible.

The three departments have seen their average sickness rate cut by nearly
half and a 75 per cent reduction in staff absence for hospital and doctor

Home working has also led to a 30 per cent rise in productivity.

As a result, the council is to extend the scheme to 13 other departments including
council tax, internal audit, service review, anti-fraud, youth offending team,
community partnerships and leisure services.

Paul Holmes, HR director at Merton Council, said, "The word that sums
up the scheme is ‘ownership’. Employees now own their work and their working
life. The scheme has had a massive buy-in from staff because they now control
their work-life balance."

Holmes believes that the role of Unison in helping to reassure suspicious
staff has been vital to the success of the scheme.

Minister for Employment Alan Johnson has praised the initiative, which was
part-funded by a £50,000 government grant.

"Mapping working practices to the needs of the customer and its staff
is a must. There is no reason why in the future the council cannot be open 24-7
– certainly for paying bills," said Holmes

"The scheme has made the council more attractive to work for and has
helped us to retain staff."

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