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Working Lunch Thursday, 10 October, 2002, 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
Finding the right balance
Pilates is one way Capital helps its staff to relax
Pilates is one way Capital helps its staff to relax

Keeping staff happy isn't always the first concern when running a business.

But there's growing evidence that considering the welfare of employees can bring tangible returns.

And it's not just an issue for large companies - smaller firms can also benefit from innovative personnel policies.

Balance

Work-life balance is one of the big buzz phrases for business, making sure staff feel valued and that they have a life outside the office.

It's a subject that's always been high on the agenda for Sussex recruitment company Capital International.

The firm, which specialises in the IT sector, employs nearly 50 people in its office at Burgess Hill.

Flexible

It has a system of flexible working and believes in helping women to return to work after having children.

Capital provides more than the basic maternity leave and pay and encourages staff to contribute ideas which will make the business more efficient.

Once a week a pilates instructor comes in to take exercise classes.

Karen Silk
Karen Silk

"Since we started the company we have always had a policy of having fun, being part of a team and everyone getting involved," says chief executive Karen Silk.

Communication

Staff are kept up to date with how the company is performing at regular briefings.

Sometimes guest speakers are invited, such as a husband and wife polar exploration team.

Yet while Capital believes in work-life balance, it also encourages out-of-hours activities such as charity fundraising.

"We've put teams into the London-Brighton cycle ride three or four times and a couple of years we've walked the South Downs Way in a relay," says sales director Mike Nunn.

Teamwork

"Everyone gets involved and those who don't want to walk help with the food or the transport."

Karen Silk adds: "When people enjoy their job and feel supported and part of a team, morale is high and that passes on when you speak to your customers.

"It's a very tough business climate at the moment and I really believe the high morale we have makes a difference - we are actually holding up much better than a lot of our competitors."

Response

Staff certainly seem to respond well to the policies.

"I've been here for two-and-a-half years and they are extremely flexible in their approach to work," says Chris Higgins.

His colleague Claire O'Neill comments: "From day one it was very apparent that work-life balance is very important here and that there's a 'work hard, play hard' culture."

Technical director Graham Rees says the benefits to the business are tangible.

Results

"If you look at our absence rate, it's about half the national average and the trend is downwards," he points out.

"In terms of staff retention, our figures are very good, perhaps the best within the industry."

Karen says it can be a two-way street. Flexible hours, for instance, are only efficient if staff don't abuse the system.

"We give a lot but we expect a lot back. If people misread the culture they don't last very long here," she says.

Recognition

Capital has been awarded 35,000 by the government to use on work-life balance issues.

Its success has been noted at a high level.

Not all the measures will suit every company.

But as last month's Work-Life Balance Week showed, there are many policies which could improve the lot of staff and bring benefits to companies as well.

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