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Next funding round open for work/life balance measures

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Businesses are invited to bid for the fourth round of support from the Work / Life balance fund, if they want to introduce innovative working arrangements which benefit their business, their employees and their customers. The competition is open to all employers in England and Scotland in the private, public and voluntary sectors. The lucky winners get free advice from specialist consultants to support them in developing and implementing work-life balance policies and practices.

In this round special sector caegories have been introduced to encourage applications from IT, communications and electronics sectors, and particularly from SMEs in these sectors. The deadline for applications is Friday 8th March 2002, and there is #5 million up for grabs. Individual organisations can get free consultancy support worth up to #55,000 for imaginative policies to boost business performance and reduce problems such as long hours, rigid shift patterns and absenteeism.

So far, 176 private, public and voluntary organisations have won funding to the tune of nearly #6.5m – with over 400,000 employees in the winning businesses benefiting from new innovative working practices.

Employment Relations minister Alan Johnson said: “We want more organisations to aim for the top of the league when it comes to helping staff balance their work and home life more
effectively. Any company that offers its employees a better balance between work and home reaps the rewards of increased job satisfaction among the workforce, reduced staff turnover and higher productivity. It’s a winning strategy that benefits employees and employers alike.”

Under the fund, #4m is being made available for projects, with extra funding of up to #1m to support work-life balance projects specifically in the IT, communications and electronic sectors as part of the Government’s drive to increase diversity and equality of opportunity in the hi tech industries.

Wales has its own version of the Challenge Fund.

Details of the Challenge Fund

All projects measure financial savings, reductions in staff absenteeism, staff retention levels and take-up of work-life balance options by staff. The total size of the fund for 2000-2003 is #10.5m, of which more than #4m has been allocated for the fourth round. The average funding per project is about #35,000. The additional funding directed at the IT, electronics and communicatins sector derives from the DTI’s three year programme, worth #7m, to address the skill needs of these hi tech industries. Funding is routed through consultancies to simplify administration for employers. The Fund meets the costs of consultancy advice, tailored to the needs of its workforce. Successful applicants allocate some resource to the project and work constructively with the consultants, playing a part in helping us disseminate learning outcomes. Twenty four consultants were selected through open competition to help the winners of Challenge Fund money.

Consultants target advice to match the specific needs and circumstances of successful applicants. It might involve looking at the hours employees work, where they work, when they do their work, or particular measures for parents and carers. Some employers have needed help to develop a work-life balance strategy and policies, assess the costs and benefits of changing employee work patterns, find out what kind of working arrangements employees would like and explore solutions which meet both individual and business needs.

Funds are allocated to organisations which best demonstrate:

– how they will benefit from support from consultants to address work-life balance issues
– top level commitment to improving work-life balance, reflected in staff resource and time allocated to the project
– there will be a number of measurable outcomes to the work-life balance project they wish to undertake
– they are prepared to share their learning and best practice achieved as a result of the project with other employers

A selection panel will choose the winners. The panel consists of: an expert on management consultancy, a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) Challenge Fund project manager, an expert on work-life balance and a DTI official. All applications are scored according to the above criteria. They are sifted by the panel for scoping on the basis of scores, whilst trying to ensure a balanced representation by size, sector and region.

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