Flexible working makes everyone a winner

Winners of Computer Weekly's Best Places to Work Awards reveal how progressive staffing policies can improve an organisation's...

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Winners of Computer Weekly's Best Places to Work Awards reveal how progressive staffing policies can improve an organisation's business efficiency



Over the past few years companies have come under increasing pressure to allow their employees to enjoy a healthy work/life balance. Fashions in the workplace come and go but progressive companies have discovered sound business reasons for paying more than lip service to the work/life balance of their staff.

Overworked staff will perform below the best of their ability, stressed staff become ill, and frustrated staff leave.

Earlier this month Computer Weekly's Best Places to Work in IT 2005 awards showcased the best employment practices in IT across the public and private sectors. The awards ceremony, which recognised excellence in nine categories, highlighted a range of policies, formal and informal, that allow staff to achieve a better work/life balance.

Many companies acclaimed in the latest Best Places to Work Awards allowed staff to work flexible hours and to work from home. They have also discouraged the 'macho' workplace culture of early starts and late nights.

For Andy Brimble, head of IT at the Adult Learning Inspectorate, which won Best Place to Work in the central and local government sector, getting the work/life balance right in his department was primarily about making his staff better at their jobs.

"If our IT staff are happy they will deal with people better than if they are stressed and pressured," he said. "Our customers are inspectors who have often been used to having personal assistants and their own staff, but who now work from home and so need good IT support from us. Customer service is everything."

Ensuring flexibility in the hours worked by the 15 IT staff at the inspectorate has been the cornerstone of achieving a contented workforce, said Brimble.

"We ensure that we have generous flexible hours, so staff work their 37 hours within a daily core of 8.30am to 5.30pm," he said. "It has panned out well - for every person who needs to come in late after school drop-off, there is someone who wants to get in early to beat the traffic."

Staff at the Adult Learning Inspectorate have also been warned about the dangers of working excessive hours. "It is important for senior managers to understand how easy it is to burn out," said Brimble. "I learnt that in my career, working from 8am to 8pm, I was going nowhere and heading for trouble."

Brimble said the flexible working regime at the inspectorate has benefited customers and made staff feel more loyal to the organisation. "When our exchange server went down a couple of months ago, we had three staff working overnight on it, and our customers thanked us for getting it back up so fast," said Brimble.

Other companies have helped their staff to balance work and domestic demands by allowing them to work from home.

Betfair, an online gaming company and winner of the Best Places to Work media, hospitality, entertainment and leisure category, offers all its engineers the opportunity to work from home. "Our IT engineers can remotely access office systems and communicate with colleagues in the office," said Betfair's chief technology officer David Yu. "Betfair pays for their internet access and encourages staff to work from home whenever they feel it would benefit them, either for work or personal reasons."

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Business benefits

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said there are clear business benefits to introducing policies that underpin a healthy work/life balance:

  • Higher productivity and competitiveness
  • Increased flexibility and customer service, for example to cover for absence and holidays
  • Improved morale, motivation, commitment and engagement
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Improved recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce
  • Becoming an "employer of choice"
  • Meeting legal requirements.

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