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Best for Work-Life Balance

A proper work-life balance is hard to achieve, but there were some shining examples in this year’s competition.

The phrase "work-life balance" has been somewhat over-used in recent times, and is interpreted to mean different things by different people. Trying to ascertain which company was the "best" for work-life balance, then, could easily have left our judges bewildered and confused. Fortunately, the three shortlisted companies all had a strong understanding of what the term meant to them and their employees and managed to convey to the judges how work-life balance fitted in with their ethos.

The most compelling example of this was the award winner, Hydrock, which said in its submission that work-life balance meant "making sure that we can not only give our families the commitment and support they need, and that we enjoy a fulfilling life outside work, but also that life is rewarding, enjoyable and stress free, so that when we do go home we have the time, energy and means to enjoy our home life".

Hydrock was started 13 years ago by Brian McConnell, who says he set up the company to "do interesting things, make a living and enjoy ourselves in the process"."My vision was that we should be able to work hard and go home in the evenings and see our families and do other things," he adds. This strong statement of intent is enshrined in the company’s ethos and although Hydrock now has more than 400 employees in consultancy and specialist contracting, this ethos appears to be as strong as ever.

McConnell – now managing director – still tries to get to know everyone in the company and ensure that everyone feels noticed and recognised for their achievements. "

Every employee has two appraisals a year, and staff receive profit-related bonuses at the end of every financial year. There is also a "management charter" that sets out exactly what staff can expect from their managers.

As Hydrock has grown, the company has lost none of its flexibility, and conditions of employment allow working hours to be tailored to individual needs – for example to fit around school hours and holidays, to avoid peak traffic, or to allow colleagues living in the same area to travel together.

Maternity and paternity pay are above the statutory minimum, and staff can take extended holidays for family reasons, for volunteer work or to achieve personal goals.

The company has also tried to create the best possible working environments for staff. Offices tend to be in semi-rural locations; fresh fruit, mineral water, tea, coffee and squash are provided free in every office; workplace health screening is offered to all site-based staff; and everyone gets free eye tests and flu vaccinations.

Car sharing and cycle-to-work schemes are in operation and at its head office in Almondsbury, Bristol, Hydrock has installed a running track, football and cricket pitches. It is probably not surprising, given all these pluses, that staff contentment is recorded at well above 75%, retention at 98%, and that Hydrock was voted the 4th best medium-sized company to work for
in this year’s Sunday Times Best 100 survey, winning special awards for work-life balance and "giving something back".

The judges agreed that Hydrock encapsulated "everything that is good about work-life balance", identifying that the ethos was driven from the top. But perhaps the last word should go to an anonymous employee, who wrote in the company’s staff survey in April: "I honestly wish I had found the company 10 years ago. I feel valued, appreciated and respected for my knowledge, skills and effort. I have never enjoyed coming to work so much before."

Mott MacDonald graduate engineer Rupert Taylor says work-life balance means "being able to get the most out of your personal life and your career – having opportunities at work to maximise what you want to do outside work". In Taylor’s case this includes being supported in his charity work for Engineers for Overseas Development, for which he has been helping to build a medical centre in Uganda.
For Kate Woolley, another graduate, it means taking time out of her working day to promote
the construction industry to school children. "I’ve always been encouraged to participate in
these activities," she says.

The company offers a range of formal and informal practices to enable job sharing, part-time working and sabbaticals. A flexible benefits programme has just been launched. "We respect our people," says HR director Tania Heap. "It’s better for us to have our people happy at work one day a week than not have them at all. If we’re flexible with employees, they’re flexible back."

"We’re a professional organisation, but we’re not a hard-headed organisation,” says Ian Willetts, head of reward at Atkins. "We recognise the importance of being a decent employer and doing the right thing by our employees."

Flexibility in work, holiday and career development is at the core of Atkins’ work-life balance ethos, and local managers are empowered to make decisions based on individual need, while working within a company-wide framework. This gives Atkins a balance between formal policy – a necessity in a company the size of Atkins – and the personal touch.

In the areas that are covered by legislation, such as maternity and adoption benefits, Atkins offers something a lot better than minimum statutory requirements. The company is currently exploring a full flexible benefits package, and has started by introducing an option to buy up to 15 extra days holiday a year – something that 28% of staff have already taken up.

It is also looking at expanding its employee wellbeing programme.

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