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British corporates share secrets of optimum work-life balance

As job site Glassdoor reveals the top 20 companies for work-life balance in the UK, Real Business asks three of them what strategies have been put in place to look after staff.
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Whereas for previous generations pay and job security were the most important career issues, today’s generation are much more likely to be concerned about responsibility, empowerment and a good work-life balance.

From flexible working to company perks, there are many contributing factors to the subject of work-life balance – with each company having a slightly different approach to getting it right.

Using reviews from its platform, Glassdoor has revealed the 20 highest-rated companies for work-life balance in the UK for 2017 – with a number of familiar names filling slots high up. For a company to be considered in Glassdoor’s report, a minimum of 50 work-life balance ratings must have been submitted by UK-based employees between July 2016 and July 2017. Here is the ranking.

1. Expedia – 4.3 11. Procter & Gamble – 4.0
2. Lookers – 4.2 12. Screwfix – 4.0
3. American Express – 4.2 13. TeacherActive – 4.0
4. HomeServe – 4.2 14. Mott MacDonald – 4.0
5. Peninsula – 4.1 15. Rank Group – 4.0
6. Cisco Systems – 4.1 16. Yell – 4.0
7. ARM – 4.1 17. Unilever – 4.0
8. Financial Conduct Authority – 4.1 18. BAE Systems UK – 4.0
9. Royal London – 4.1 19. Rolls Royce – 4.0
10. Thomson Reuters – 4.0 20. Google – 4.0

 

Learning from the best

As the business placed top of the pile at number one, Expedia has found it’s “One Team” mantra is a key factor in encouraging a strong work-life balance. Throughout the organisation, where teams span geographies, an effort is made to promote collaboration and engagement globally. This way, Claire Ainscough, vice president, HR, Hotels.com and Expedia Affiliate Network said, requires flexible hours for employees and an acknowledgement that the most important thing is the output of the work and less ethic where and how it is done.

“We provide the tools – whether it be technology or flexible benefits – including travel and fitness benefits, so they can work in the way that is most effective for their individual needs. We know that everyone works differently and we want to support this. Our employees feel empowered to work in the best way for then, and in return, they feel invested to achieve and do their best work.”

Expedia talks about work-life balance when recruiting, during induction weeks and at regular fairs and events. The company provides employees with access to an online portal to allow choice in picking the benefits they want. “Additionally, we want employees to engineer their own careers, continually feel challenged and have opportunities to grow, and we launched an open internal talent market to make it easier for our employees to identify opportunities to accelerate their career growth,” Ainscough told Real Business.

Work-life balance in the north

Peninsula, a professional services firm with around 1,500 employees in the UK, placed fifth and put much of that score down to the 24-hour service it provides staff.

Peter Done, managing director of Peninsula, said staff can speak to professionally trained counsellors if they are struggling with any aspect of life in or outside of work.

“Reducing the working hours with no impact on wages has proven to be extremely successful,” he revealed to Real Business. “Originally, our core base of employees were required to work from 9am to 5:30pm. We reduced this to finishing at 5:15pm as a trial to see if this 15-minute window would help and then this year we went one step further and reduced it further to a 5pm finish.”

Peninsula work-life balance

Peninsula staff are told their opinions will be listened to, and acted upon

As the business is largely based in Manchester, being able to finish 30 minutes earlier helps those commuting get an earlier train or miss out on the city gridlock that can often occur, Done believes.

“We’ve created a culture of positive communication between our employees and managers across the Peninsula Group, the majority of senior managers and directors have grown and progressed within the business,” Done commented when asked about how the company communicates with staff to ensure their work-life balance needs are being addressed.

Research insights

David Whitby, UK country manager at Glassdoor, explained that companies are realising more can be produced by a workforce if an environment where people feel it is ok to take time out and be flexible with the working week is created. “It’s not about leaving the office early, it’s about integrating work and lifestyle. At the end of the day, employers that trust their staff to do their job to the best of their ability, and recognise that everyone has commitments and interests outside the office, will create more loyalty,” he added.

Communication is a vital part of Homeserve's strategy

Communication is an important part of Homeserve’s strategy

HomeServe was another business to make it into Glassdoor’s top five and membership CEO Greg Reed provided us with some exclusive insight. “We live by a simple mantra at HomeServe – if you put your people first, they will take care of your customers and the rest will take care of itself,” he said. “Part of this means building a culture where our people feel engaged and that what they do makes a real difference in our customers’ lives.”

The covers and repairs business, which has over 5,000 employees, has flexible working and other benefits. However, what really makes Homeserve stand out, Reed believes, is its regular communication and belief that working life should have some purpose with fun being a “seamless” part of this. “Being rated so highly on this least means that we are getting it right and we are on the right path for our ambition to be one of the best places to work in the UK.”

Learning from big to work for small

So what can smaller businesses without the resources of Expedia, Peninsula and Homeserve do to improve the work-life balance on offer. For Expedia’s Ainscough it comes down to listening to employees. She recommends piloting something others and tried and tested to see what the engagement will be and then decide whether to roll out wider.

“We have a test and learn philosophy at Expedia, which focuses on data-driven rather than opinion-led decisions. We apply this thinking to HR as well where ideas are tested, giving us signals to what employees really want,” she explained.

Peninsula’s Done believes employees are a company’s biggest assets, with time and money i invested into developing them in line with business needs. “Make sure they feel valued and their opinion is always listed to,” he advised. “Some of the best ideas to improve work-life balance has come from internal communications with our employees. You need to remain flexible whilst always putting the success of the business first.”

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About Author

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven is the editor of Real Business. He is also the editor of Business Advice, a title focused solely on a section of the business community currently underserved – micro companies. Alongside this, he is part of the team that hosts the Growing Business Awards, First Women Awards and Future 50 initiative.

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