Work life balance

It can be very difficult for working parents to successfully balance their home and family life with their career and work.

But they do have a range of rights to help them to do this and there are measures that employers can take to make this juggling act a little easier.

Work life balance and the law

Working parents have a range of rights that can help with work life balance. These include the following:

  • Employees have the right to take up to 52 weeks of statutory maternity or adoption leave. (Those carrying out agency work or who work on a self-employed basis do not qualify.)
  • This leave can be shared between the parents if the mother decides not to take up all her entitlement. In this case, fathers can take up to 26 weeks’ time off work to care for their children before their first birthday. This is known as Additional Paternity Leave.
  • In addition, fathers (and partners) have the right to take Ordinary Paternity Leave from work around the time of the birth of their children.
  • Working parents who are employees also have the right to unpaid parental leave of up to four weeks a year (and 18 weeks in total) to be taken within the first five years of their children’s lives. This increases to the first 18 years for adopted children and children with disabilities.
  • Employees have the right to reasonable unpaid leave from work for family emergencies to care for their children.
  • An employee with caring responsibilities for children under the age of 17 (or 18 in the case of disabled children) has the statutory right to request a flexible working pattern. See asking for a change in working conditions.
  • Employers must provide suitable facilities to enable new mothers to breastfeed and/or to express and store breast milk at work (a private room with a fridge for example).
  • New rights to share parental leave (due to become law in April 2015) will allow a woman to end her maternity leave early and convert the rest of her leave into Shared Parental Leave, which either parent can take.  The aim is to introduce greater flexibility for working parents and to encourage fathers to be more involved with their children from very early in their life.

What more employers can do to help with work life balance

Guidance about work life balance is the single biggest equality issue that members take to their trade unions. The Prospect trade union says that work life could be more family-friendly if there were:

  • Better maternity and paternity pay and leave to enable parents to spend valuable time with their children.
  • Rights for both parents and carers to work reduced or flexible hours, encouraging a balance between family life and work responsibilities.

Many employers, often following negotiations with trade unions, have introduced a range of progressive policies to make work more family-friendly and help their employees to have a better work life balance. The TUC has produced a guide providing examples of some of these. They include the following arrangements:

  • Working from home.
  • Job sharing – where two workers split a full-time job between them.
  • Term-time working – allowing workers to work during school term-time only and look after or spend time with their children during the school holidays.
  • Career breaks – an extended period of time off work with the right to return to a job.
  • Self rostering – where workers get together to compile their shift patterns, ensuring that all shifts are covered while taking individual preferences into account.
  • Shift swapping – where workers can arrange shifts between themselves providing that all the shifts are covered.
  • Compressed working hours – the total number of hours are worked over fewer working days than the standard. The most common working pattern for this arrangement are a four-day week or a nine-day fortnight.
  • Part-time working – working less than the standard full-time hours. In one example, a company allowed all new mothers to return to work part-time and in doing so considerably boosted its return to work following maternity leave rates.
  • Flexi-time – working a standard number of hours but with flexibility around start and finish times outside the core hours set by the employer. This can help with dropping children off and picking them up from school.

Other employers pay far more than the statutory minimum while parents are on maternity, paternity, adoption leave, provide paid parental leave and paid dependency leave, or allow a greater amount of leave than the statutory minimum. For example, some provide full pay for a full year of maternity leave and others allow a phased return to work.

This can help working parents to settle their children into a nursery on a gradual basis. Other employers subsidise childcare costs and/or provide a workplace nursery to help their working parent employees to achieve a work life balance.