The Government will today announce plans to revise Britain's business culture and introduce shorter working weeks and flexible hours.

The Government will today announce plans to revise Britain's business culture and introduce shorter working weeks and flexible hours.

In the first move of its kind, teams of management consultants funded by the Government will go into different types of private sector businesses to assess how they can introduce more flexible working practices, such as three day weeks, part-time, job sharing and home working. It is hoped that thousands of employees, who are struggling to balance their work and home life will benefit from having more time with their friends and family.

Business also stand to benefit financially; research has shown that flexible working reduces the number of sick days, improves productivity, and saves money on staff training because people stay longer with the same company.

The Government has set aside £1.5m to fund consultants for the first two years but if successful is expecting to expand the scheme. The Employment minister Margaret Hodge said: "We are offering practical support and advice on how ... to change the culture, so that the majority of companies offer flexible working practices. "It's an issue whose time has come. It matters as much for our economic success as it does for our social inclusion agenda. We need strong families and people need time to do that. We also can't afford to waste the talent that won't be engaged in the labour market if we don't get a proper work-life balance," she said.

The CBI estimated last year that British business lost £10bn through absence at work, much of which was due to stress.

Although the challenge fund will be open to all businesses it is the small and medium size businesses that are expected to use it most. Over 10 million people in Britain are employed in businesses of less than 20 people. Stephen Alambritis of the Federation of Small Businesses said: "There are about 1.2m small businesses in Britain so £1.5m in subsidising consultants is not going to go very far. Many have already been forced to have informal flexible working practices so they can retain staff but the best way to change culture is for big business to lend their human resources staff to small companies for a couple of days."

A group of 22 employers have also got together to form an independent group which will work closely with the Government and spread new ideas and good practice.

Peter Ellwood, Chairman of Employers for Work-Life Balance, said: "The principles of work-life balance are key to the success of business of the future. By putting work-life balance at the heart of corporate culture, organisations can improve morale, reduce absenteeism and employee turnover and increase productivity. If British business is to be competitive and attract the best employees it is vital that this is issue is put firmly on the agenda," he said.