Focus: People Management - Work-life balance needs a structure

Charities have flexible working practices, but they are often too informal, finds Graham Willgoss.

Voluntary sector organisations are "shooting themselves in the foot" if they do not have structured rather than informal work-life balance policies in place, according to experts.

"In our experience, the voluntary and community sector is very good at providing work-life balance," says Maria Aguilar, principal HR consultant at the HR Services Partnership. "But it is often unstructured and very informal, which can lead to problems.

"It fits in well with the ethos of the sector because it's nice to be seen to have such a policy, although charities do seem to shoot themselves in the foot occasionally because it is done so informally. It is difficult to generalise, but on the whole, the larger the charity, the more generous and structured it is with work-life balance policies.

"The big difference across the sectors is that the private and public sectors tend to have structures and policies in place. However, most of the charities we deal with go beyond the legal minimum."

Her comments are supported by Acevo's latest remuneration survey, which shows that 55 per cent of organisations with annual incomes below £250,000 have work-life balance policies in place. In the top income bracket, 90 per cent of organisations with annual incomes above £25m have work-life balance policies. As a whole, 73 per cent of voluntary bodies have a work-life balance policy.

The report also shows that 23 per cent of organisations offer enhanced paternity leave, 21 per cent offer paid maternity leave beyond the statutory minimum and 72 per cent offer paid leave to deal with a personal emergency or crisis.

Derek Manuel, international human resources director at Save the Children UK, believes the sector's reputation for offering a good work-life balance is justified by his charity's policies.

"We wouldn't necessarily wait for legislation to force us to introduce policies that ensure staff do get a proper work-life balance," he says.

"People often focus on the number of hours employees work. We are a hard-working organisation, but we also offer significant flexibility in that our staff can choose the beginning and end of their day, provided they are here for their core hours."

Manuel says Save the Children has allowed its staff to achieve an appropriate work-life balance.

"But that is not to say they are less driven," he says. "They have sensibly managed to work hard and have a life at the same time."

graham.willgoss@haynet.com.

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