IT firms seek the balance to retain the best workers

The new economy is notorious for demanding that staff work long and often unsociable hours. But while some dotcommers are happy...

The new economy is notorious for demanding that staff work long and often unsociable hours. But while some dotcommers are happy to eat, sleep and drink work, others want to find a more level balance between their career and their personal life, writes Roisin Woolnough.

With the Internet industry holding less allure since the bubble burst, and the skills shortage not getting any better, an increasing number of IT companies are realising that they need to introduce more employee-friendly policies if they are to recruit and retain staff.

For some business leaders this may seem a daunting task, but help is at hand in the form of Employer Links, a new scheme set-up to help IT companies implement staff-friendly policies.

Currently running in Cambridgeshire, the scheme is due to go national in April. It is designed to implement and improve family-friendly policies within companies and is the brainchild of Opportunity Links, a non-profit-making organisation funded by county councils and government contributions.

Mary Barnes, Employer Links co-ordinator, explains, "Companies subscribe to the scheme and we provide advice and guidance for employers to expand on the work/life balance.

"Initially, we meet with the company and go through with them what they already have in place. We put together a survey for staff to find out what they want. A lot of people want more flexible hours or access to child care or paternity leave."

The main thrust of Employer Links is helping employees with children find appropriate child care. "We can offer practical help, such as looking for child care or looking at local schools for companies that are thinking about moving down here," says Barnes. "We can also provide emergency child care information."

Contrary to the popular perception of the dotcom world being populated by bright young things straight out of university, many staff are older and have children. A report carried out by accountantcy firm KPMG last year found that the average age of people heading up dotcom companies is 38. The report, E-Business Leaders Survey 2000, also found that one in five of the 100 people surveyed work more than 70 hours a week.

While the traditional perks of working for a dotcom range from on-site massages to football tables, Barnes thinks many individuals are more interested in schemes that help them in their personal life.

One of the first companies to sign up to Employer Links was Uunet, a business-to-business Internet service provider. Maureen O'Donnell, human resources adviser at Uunet, says the scheme is a major incentive when recruiting and also helps the company to retain existing employees.

"We have a huge requirement for staff," she says. "We are heading towards 900 people at the moment, but expect to have 2,000 staff in the UK over the next few years. It is very difficult to recruit people. Also, our people are very marketable and we want to retain them."

O'Donnell says that some of the measures introduced as a result of Employer Links include child care policies, improved maternity and paternity rights, a flexible attitude towards part-time work and bonuses for women who return to work after having children.

Feeling perky?

What company benefits do you enjoy? Tell us about your favourite perks at work. E-mail us at [email protected]

Useful contacts

  • Opportunity Links: 01223-566522

  • Department for Education and Employment, Work-Life Balance Team: 020-7273 5626

  • Family Friendly UK: 01202 466433; [email protected]

  • Read more on IT jobs and recruitment