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Tim Holden

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The balancing act


As the stresses and strains of modern life change, so too does the training managers' remit. Tim Holden looks at how to help staff maintain a healthy work-life balance.

In July 2009 I met with the head of human resources for a potential new client, listed as one of the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For. Recently he had visited a location where an awards ceremony was taking place, and the recipient was praised about how she is always the first to arrive at work, last to leave and never grumbles about catching up over the weekend. He was horrified that the sales-driven culture that existed led to the site manager rewarding such behaviour, and wanted to engineer a shift to an environment where results are achieved through hard work within the contracted hours. But in the current economic climate getting the balance right can be tricky…

So what is work-life balance anyway?

In his book, 'Managing work-life balance' David Clutterbuck defines work-life balance as being aware of different demands on time and energy, having the ability to make choices in the allocation of time and energy, knowing what values to apply to choices, and making choices. Below are some of the key areas that can be worked on to help create a good work-life balance.

Keeping fit

Not every employer has the space to provide a gym or showers for employees that want to run/cycle to work. However the more forward-thinking organisations arrange discounted memberships at local sports centres, contact adjacent offices to borrow their facilities at minimal cost and organise sports events. In Ken Blanchard’s book 'The One Minute Manager balances work and life' he highlights the importance of keeping weekly graphs to keep score of how many times per week a brisk walk of 20-30 minutes took place, plus how often strength and flexibility exercises are undertaken.


A poor work-life balance can create tensions at home, where one partner feels that they have to do more than their fair share. Such feelings of inequality can manifest themselves in rows about housework, after-school activities and spending time with friends/family. No-one wants to come to work bringing their problems from home with them, nor being less than alert due to an inadequate amount of sleep.

Tim Holden"We advocate the policy of providing flexible working for the whole workforce, creating a better work-life balance for all thus minimising the feeling of them and us between the haves and have nots."

Age differences

Since the recession began a number of our clients have recognised that their benefits package needs to be updated; a value-for-money approach needs to be adopted. Providing perks that impact little on retaining existing employees and attracting future employees makes no sense, and we talk about the fact that generally people born around the same time want similar things - for instance, private medical insurance tends not to excite young men in a blue-collar workplace. Listed in the book 'The New Rules of Engagement: Life-work Balance and Employee Commitment', Mike Johnson identifies the different techniques required in engaging the various age groups:

  • Twinkies - under 20
  • Point ‘n’ clickers - 20-25
  • Generation X - 25-35
  • Middle aged and manic - 35-45
  • Growing old frantically - 45-55
  • Grey tops - over 55

Flexible working

In April 2003 the UK government introduced the right for a parent to request flexible working. This gave parents with a child aged under six (or parents of a disabled child under the age of 18) the right to request flexible working arrangements from their employer. The employer has to "seriously consider" requests but is not required to grant permission, although rejection must be based on "good business reasons". These rights were extended from April 2007 to the carers of certain categories of adults, and from April 2009 to the parents of children aged under 16. We advocate the policy of providing flexible working for the whole workforce, creating a better work-life balance for all thus minimising the feeling of them and us between the haves and have nots (in terms of caring responsibilities). Not everyone working from home will be watching the Ashes when they should be working!


In our experience management training sometimes overlooks how to avoid the burn-out of employees, and the tell-tale signs to look for in order that corrective action can be taken before it is too late. Gina Gardiner in her book 'How You Can Manage Your Staff More Effectively' suggests asking the following questions:

  • What is causing your stress?
  • How do you react to it?
  • Is your response to it appropriate?
  • How could things be improved?


This is one of the biggest challenges faced by the western world, yet innovative approaches do exist. IBM provides a financial incentive for employees who use an interactive online tool to manage their family’s diet and exercise. This records information such as how many servings of fruit and vegetables are consumed each day and what exercise takes place, whilst suggesting activities such as preparing meals together and undertaking bike rides together. Replacing vending machines with water coolers and organising healthy eating demonstrations in the workplace also help.

Drugs and alcohol

The 2007 smoking ban led to a noticeable increase in interest around the use of legal and illegal substances that can lead to addiction. A number of people we speak with now comment that this phenomenon is now tailing-off and a proactive approach to re-invigorate this area may lead to reduced absenteeism and improved productivity.

Ensuring that your employees have a true balance between work-life and home-life is never easy, but the rewards for achieving success in this area can be measured in increased sales because people are happy, as well as reduced costs in terms of training and recruiting replacements.

Tim Holden is the managing director of Fluid, a specialist human resources consultancy


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