They want you to spend more time with your family - Business - News - The Independent

They want you to spend more time with your family

Roger Trapp looks at moves designed to encourage flexible working hours

Amid the furore surrounding Nicola Horlick's departure from City investment house Morgan Grenfell, much attention has focused on the ability of people like her to juggle senior positions with family life.

Although many question why this issue is not generally considered relevant to men, it is widely accepted that the increasing number of successful women will put pressure on employers to become more amenable to employees' needs. And two recent initiatives look likely to push the issue further up the agenda.

Kids' Club Network, the national organisation promoting safe childcare outside school hours, launched a new scheme last week designed to bring home its message to companies.

"Kids' Clubs Mean Business" - launched by the network's vice-president Cherie Booth QC (Tony Blair's wife) - includes a newsletter for personnel managers that will keep them up to date on childcare, briefings of particular interest to employers and information on childcare available in particular areas.

The network is pressing ministers to provide funding of pounds 50m a year for the next five years on the grounds that while the present government scheme has helped increase provision, there are still only enough places for about two children out of every 100.

It points to research showing that the existing scheme has contributed to a rise of nearly a tenth in the proportion of parents in paid employment, an increase in the number of hours worked and also rises in the wages received by parents.

Partnerships of the type envisaged by the network "make for a more reliable, better-skilled workforce, strengthen local communities and reduce crime among the young," said Ms Booth.

Meanwhile, a US organisation that encourages "family-friendly" policies at work is establishing itself in Britain to help business deal with the rise of women in the workforce.

The formidable team heading the fledgling UK operation of Work/Family Directions (WFD) - former Opportunity 2000 director Liz Bargh, Parents at Work founder member Lucy Daniels and former Equal Opportunities Commission chair Joanna Foster - stresses that it won't necessarily import what has worked in the US over the past 12 years. But with such multinationals as American Express, AT&T, IBM and General Motors on its books, the organisation believes it is well placed to help organisations increase employee commitment.

Ms Daniels points out that while "family-friendly"policies are generally associated with children, they can also take in caring for elderly parents or balancing a spouse's long hours.

Just as more and more companies are introducing a "menu" approach to benefits such as pensions and cars, so she envisages that they might in future offer a range of options to help employees balance their work and home lives. Such an initiative would also recognise that people's needs change over time. Accordingly, younger employees might be prepared to work longer hours, while slightly older ones might look for arrangements better suited to raising young children and middle-aged ones might like contracts that allow for care of the elderly.

There is some evidence, adds Ms Daniels, that in a climate where promotion and lifetime employment are no longer assumed, workers might swap pay rises for greater flexibility.

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