THINKPIECE: Balancing life with work will pay dividends

Last year, more than 13 million working days were lost to stress, anxiety or depression, a figure which doesn't make pleasant reading either for our economy or the health of the nation.

It may also explain why 93 per cent of firms are having difficulty retaining staff. Nowhere is the problem more keenly felt than in the charitable sector. Without the cash to reward workers, good causes find the exit door is ever revolving.

Sadly, most just throw up their hands and let this happen, and accept that losing capable employees is just part of life - as presumably, is the huge dent it makes in their budgets.

Yet with a few changes to working practices, the picture could be transformed and, aside from ensuring staff retention, it would mean charities wasted less on recruitment and spent more on campaigning for a better world.

Here at the environmental charity ENCAMS, we've learned this the hard way. Two years ago, morale, sickness and turnover were a costly problem.

In an effort to address it, we looked at measures including adopting a far more flexible approach to work.

To some staff, the idea of spending less time at work seemed alien. Yet the response to nine-day fortnights or being based at home has focused minds. Since implementation, we have saved more than £25,000 in sick days, and improved staff retention and satisfaction.

This week ENCAMS will become the first charity in Britain (and the joint first company in the UK) to be given an award by the Work-Life Balance Trust, and this allows us to highlight its benefits to business, local government and charities. It's time good causes took the lead, because aside from reducing costs and being good for business, working flexibly also reduces stress and allows us more time with the family, which is good for society too. Alan Woods is chief executive of ENCAMS, which organises the Keep Britain Tidy Campaign

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