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Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 10:59 GMT
The end of working to rule?
A baby in the bath
More time for baby?

The revolution has begun. The French are rediscovering sex, while the Brits are finding a few extra hours to spend with the kids.

A more flexible approach to work is apparently consigning "nine to five" to the shredder, along with Enron memos, typewriters and bowler hats.

I work early in the morning and late at night - that gives me a massive chunk in the day to spend with my family

Cameron Braidwood
IT worker
While France has opted for less work with the adoption of a 35-hour working week - and seen a rise in the birth rate - the UK is seeking compromise.

New research from Mintel suggests that half the working population in the UK now enjoys "good balance" between work and life, with stress levels bottoming out.

In keeping with this cultural shift, the government will give working parents the awkwardly worded "right to request a flexible working pattern" from April.

Open in new window : Lifestyles today
What makes us happy?

'A world of difference'

Cameron Braidwood, who runs his own IT consultancy, took action two years ago to adjust his working pattern.

An office worker
50% of working adults enjoy work-life balance
Three in 10 find it harder to juggle careers with personal life
Seven in 10 agree they work to provide basic needs such as food
Women are happier at work than men
More than one third believe there is more to work than making money
Source: Mintel
After the tax treatment of IT contractors changed in 2000, he decided "to take it up a notch" and set up his own business.

"It was the more difficult option, but I took it because it gave me more time to spend with my daughter Nia."

Along with other homeworkers, Mr Braidwood was able to do this because of advances in broadband technology.

"It made a world of difference," he says. "I needed the fast speed to navigate remote servers [for my clients]."

And the best thing about working from home?

"It's not a nine to five thing. I work early in the morning and late at night. That gives me a massive chunk in the day to spend with my family."


The move away from conventional hours has been particularly popular among consultancy, IT and advertising companies.

In a backlash to the work-crazed 1990s, many people are also rebelling against the notion of spending terminally long hours in the office.

London's skyline
Large firms have been slower to offer flexibility
"Work-life balance has really taken off in the last 16-18 months," says Aaron Ross, chairman of the Work-Life Balance Trust.

"And while the term itself might not last, the policies are becoming intuitive for many companies."

Traditionally, the larger UK plcs have been reluctant to embrace change, in the form of flexible work hours, extra leave, job-sharing and homeworking.

Leery of the administrative changes and fearful that some employees would abuse the system, they have plodded on with established rules and regulations.

The fleet-footed SMEs, meanwhile, have experimented with new trends to attract talent.

Peter Jauhal, a remuneration consultant at Surrey-based Inbucon, calls its "efficient use of resources".

In other words, if smaller companies can't afford to offer substantial remuneration when recruiting staff, they can provide tempting benefits that improve working conditions.

One long holiday

Inbucon is a case in point - it recently offered its 40 workers all the paid holiday they want, provided they meet their work commitments.

The radical move will "empower people by giving them a real sense of ownership", says the company's co-founder David Brooks.

BT Tower in London
BT is leading the way for more work-life balance
Strip away the New Labour speak and there is some tactical thinking. The company hopes to boost productivity and staff retention.

"Flexible working is the hot topic at the moment," says Frances Wilson, an HR adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

"It's a way of trying to keep good employees that you have invested in."

The bottom line

The issue of staff retention has become the killer argument for some of the bigger companies showing new interest in work-life policies.

"Employers are just interested in profit and how they can achieve that," says Mr Ross.

In particular, British Telecom and car company Ford have become high-profile champions of flexible working and related polices.

Mr Ross also refutes fears that the economic downturn and associated lay-offs will usher in a more conservative era.

"There will be no backlash, not at all if you look at the business arguments for doing this - you don't want valuable staff leaving."

The Work-Life Balance Trust has also noticed "hundreds of thousands" of companies looking at its site in the run-up to April's change in legislation for working parents.

Breaking rules

Inevitably, the flexibility does not suit everyone. Inbucon's Mr Jauhal admits the company's support staff were not as comfortable with the concept of unlimited leave as the consultants were.

"The support staff are the kind of people who like more rules around them to make things normal," he says.

But for the Cameron Braidwoods of this world, flexible working is a boon.

"The thing I value most is having free time - money is almost secondary to that," he says.

With our time-poor and cash-rich lives, there will many more who agree with him.

Work-life balance


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29 Jan 03 | Business
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07 Mar 03 | Breakfast
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