A pilot scheme at BT Wireless allowing staff to choose which hours they work has been extended to 3,000 employees.
HR senior vice-president Bob Mason said the groundbreaking pilot project took place in response to retention problems at the software engineering centre.
Mason told delegates at a seminar on work-life balance that the results ranged "from people who wanted to start early in the morning at 6am and work through till 2pm to those who wanted to work a three-day week". He said, "Everyone was different, but when we looked at the responses carefully we realised that we could accommodate every one of them."
He told delegates that achieving work-life balance is the new holy grail for HR professionals, but one to work towards. "At BT, it is a business issue and if we are to win the war for talent we have to tackle this seriously."
Mason said work-life balance was not an altruistic HR practice and BT’s experience showed it could dramatically reduce absenteeism, staff turnover, recruitment costs as well as increasing staff loyalty and competitiveness. In particular highly-able graduates were actively pursuing employers who could demonstrate their commitment to the idea.
Also speaking at the seminar, Fiona Reynolds, director of the Government’s women’s unit said the number of civil servants working part-time had risen from 3 per cent in 1984 to 13 per cent last year, while among senior civil servants the number has gone from 0.8 per cent to 3 per cent.
She said the Government was trying to put its own house in order as well as promoting work-life balance in the wider business community.
Reynolds added any employers who doubted the effectiveness of policies need only look at the successes of companies that have work-life balance initiatives.
Examples included Boots, which made annual savings of £1m at its Nottingham head office, while Barclays, which spends an estimated £12,000 per employee on training, also made substantial savings from lower turnover.
"These are costs that soon mount up if you are losing staff regularly," she said.
By Helen Rowe