Retailers are struggling with 24-hour opening, the fight to recruit and retain scarce staff, and the battle for competitive advantage; it's a wonder store managers are ever allowed to go home.
But Britain's major retail chains are deadly serious about this issue. Four of them ­ Asda, Littlewoods, Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury ­ are founder members of Employers for Work-life Balance', along with Northern Foods.
And retailers and brand manufacturers, including Tesco, M&S, Heinz and Interbrew, are among the most prominent supporters of next month's Work-Life Balance Week, when firms employing over a million people will be staging events around the country to promote a healthy balance between work and whatever else it is that people do with their time.

Compelling case
There is a compelling business case for work-life balance, of course ­ it isn't just altruism that makes employers send their staff home on time or bring in an onsite masseuse.
Professor Cary Cooper, the guru of stress, has described work-life balance as "THE big issue for human resources", and it isn't hard to see why.
According to the Work-Life Balance Trust, the organisers of Work-Life Balance Week, 80% of visits to British doctors are stress related, and seven million working days are lost each year through stress-related illness. Absenteeism now costs British firms £5bn a year.
Add in the cost of recruiting and training new employees to replace those who leave because of the working conditions, and even the most hardened finance director is going to pay attention.
What's more, the retail sector has a head start when it comes to offering flexible working conditions that allow employees to juggle work and other commitments; a scheduling nightmare has suddenly turned into a potential weapon in the war for talent.

That 5pm stress
The stumbling block for many employers is the middle manager. It isn't hard to get buy-in from the very top of the organisation, once you've made the business case, and the rank-and-file employees usually embrace work-life balance initiatives with open arms.
However, many middle managers panic at the idea that their staff will all desert them at 5pm; worse, they feel that they have to put in excessive hours to impress their bosses and win their next promotion.
Safeway ­ which has set up an action group to look at flexible working ­ was seen as "a business on the way to the corporate graveyard" until it tackled its middle management problem.
Safeway's Aspire!' development programme basically teaches store and area managers to let go. One manager, for example, was working a 12 to 14-hour day before the programme, not realising that this presenteeism' made his staff feel he didn't trust them.
Now that he's cut down to a 44-hour week, performance has improved all round.

It applies to all
Communication is key to the successful implementation of a work-life balance scheme, and it has to start with a commitment from the board.
Many firms' directors exempt themselves from work-life balance activities, but this needn't undermine the message if the reasons are explained clearly.
It's important to get the point across that work-life balance applies to all employees, not just working parents ­ a common misconception that can kill an initiative at the outset.
And you need to explain the options that are available: there just isn't a one-size fits-all solution.
The Department of Trade and Industry's web site lists 13 different practices which can improve work-life balance, ranging from annualised hours to term-time working, most of which are common across the retail sector.

nWork-Life Balance Week is from 23 to 27 September 2002
Work-Life Balance Trust:
DTI web site: