HR Magazine is reporting that the Labour Party is promising to extend Work-Life Balance legislation if returned to power in next year’s election.
The Government will extend work-life balance legislation by allowing staff to accumulate their overtime and turn it into paid leave, according to Labour’s pre-election manifesto. According to The Choice for Britain, employers would enter into a contract with employees so if staff work longer than their contracted hours, they can save this up and add it onto their annual leave.
The plan would extend flexible working beyond parents to everyone in the workplace.
In my view, a focus on non-parents in the work-life balance debate can only be a good thing. Essentially, work-life balance should be about allowing all people, irrespective of parental status, to manage the demands of the work and non-work domains of their life as they see fit. Legislating for this is difficult, due to the relative, dynamic and individual nature of the work-life interface (where work and non-work meet and influence each other). One size does not fit all in this regard.
The legislation offering the chance for flexible working to working parents was definitely needed, due to the particular challenges they face in the area of childcare. However, their non-parent colleagues were left out of the equation, despite their own need to work on balancing work and home demands. A recognition that all employees are better off with a healthy balance between their work and their personal lives is a positive, if overdue, step.
However, the details of this planned legislation will need to take account of the motivations of both employers and employees. Employers want employees to be flexible to meet the volume of work that needs to be completed. Employees want employers to be flexible when they want or need leave from the workplace.
Many work-life balance pressures are due to short-term personal requirements (e.g. caring responsibilities for an older adult, participating in educational programmes in the evening etc.) and simply adding hours onto annual leave taken in a single tranche each summer will not address many employees’ need for balance. Employees will need to be able to take this additional leave in as flexible manner as possible.
One positive note may be the impact this has on rates of overtime. Employers may think twice about asking employees to work longer hours regularly if they realise that, just like a credit card, this will need to be paid back to their employees at some point in the future.
As will all legislation, the devil will be in the details. It will be interesting to see how this is received by employers’ and employees’ representative groups. And based on the opinion polls, it is not at all certain that Labour will be returned to Government in 2010, so this may all be moot.