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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 19:35 GMT
Time to quit for the family?
Are executives spending too much time in the office?
News that a UK chief executive has quit his job to spend more time at home has reignited the debate about the right balance between work and family.

Britannic Life's chief executive Danny O'Neil gave up his job to spend more time with his children.

We do have strong evidence that if you work consistently long hours... it will damage your health... long does mean ill

Professor Carey Cooper
He is expected to still spend three days a week as a consultant with the company, which could still, one report suggests, earn him more than 100,000 a year.

His economic independence may make him an isolated case, but some experts say the arguments for spending less time at work are growing.

Economic exceptions?

Suma Chakrabarti has become the first Whitehall mandarin to be offered family-friendly working hours.

His 120,000 contract stipulates that he doesn't need to leave for work until he has had breakfast with his six year old daughter.

But few people earn as much as Mr Chakrabarti or Mr O'Neil.

"People have always wanted to get some sort of worklife balance into their life," the Institute of Directors' Ruth Lea told the BBC's World Business Report.

Quitting your job is "incredibly unusual because it does actually assume that [Mr O'Neil] has got certain economic independence. I think generally people have always wanted this balance, it is just that we hear more about it now."

Opinions are mixed as to the benefits of working long hours.

Insecure employees?

Social scientist Professor Carey Cooper believes a need to be in the office at all hours is linked to job insecurity.

"Presenteeism does nobody any good," he told World Business Report.

His view is that people would put in similar hours but to greater effect, if they were able to work from home.

"Why are we all trudging in early in the morning and trudging out late at night," he said.

"People would be prepared to work reasonably long hours, if they were partly in the context of their own home.

"The hours might not decline too much, I think the productivity might go up."

The long hours put in by lawyers, accountants and management consultants are at least usually rewarded by big salaries, the IoD's Ms Lea points out.

Long hours

Professor Cooper disputes whether long hours actually bring any beneftits: "I don't think these hours are good for any country's productivity... We do have strong evidence that if you work consistently long hours... it will damage your health."

A Mintel survey of 1,774 adults, carried out last year, found that a quarter of fathers would like to work fewer hours.

However this desire for more time may yet prove to be a passing trend.

Charlie Lewis, professor of family and development psychology at Lancaster University, points out that very often "men who take up this decision to give up work in order to be with their kids change their minds after a year or two."

IOD's Ruth Lea and Professor Carey Cooper
discuss the worklife balance
Yasmeen Khan Datamonitor
"People are working shorter hours but getting more work done"
See also:

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