Simon Howard missed it, in fact most people in the private sector missed it…Work-Life Balance week is only for civil servants, he says

So how was it for you? In case you missed it, this has been “Work-Life Balance Week”. But the chances are that it was as much an irrelevance for you as it was for me. Or to be more accurate, it will have as much effect on your working life as it will have on mine.

That’s not to say any of us wouldn’t like a better balance, it’s just that it’s difficult - given our chosen careers - to see how we can achieve it.

Of course you have to take your hat off to whoever coined the phrase, and subsequently discovered that 99.9% of the British workforce wanted a better work/life balance (WLB).

“Excuse me, I’m researching the balance between working life and free time and wondered which you’d rather have more of?”… all seems a bit bloody obvious, but it’s nothing new.

“Work-life balance” was coined in 1990s, but in the 1980s I remember it was “money rich, time poor”, or in the 1970s there were campaigns for a 35-hour working week. They are all different takes on the same theme, because yes, we would all like to work less than we do.

In the day job, we had one particularly bad piece of news in “Work-Life Balance Week” - someone who was signed up to join us withdrew his offer of acceptance because he had been offered marginally more money, considerably fewer hours and a lot more flexibility by, surprise surprise, a public sector employer. You see, while you and I are toiling away, the burgeoning public sector is dreaming up scheme after scheme to ensure that its employees achieve a much better WLB.

And don’t take just my word for it.

A recent survey from Manpower found that “the public sector tops work-life balance policies offered in other sectors”.

And how do they do it? Well, to quote Peter English of Manpower one way is that “many civil servants accrue hours and then take days off allowing them to pick and choose their work routines” or they “start work at 8am and leave much earlier in the afternoon”.

Okay, in the retail world you try to offer all sorts of flexibility on the shop floor, but could you envisage your workers “picking and choosing their work routines”? And remember these policies apply to managers too - so how would you like to start at 8am and leave much earlier, or accrue hours for days off ?

Perhaps more astounding is that English believes “as a result [of better WLB policies], it [the public sector] is succeeding in attracting quality employees, and is retaining a happy and motivated workforce, which ultimately results in increased productivity”.

Ah? Is this the same happy, motivated and productive workforce that sees firemen, librarians, social workers et al, going on strike? Or the same happy, motivated and productive workforce that takes many times more “sickies” than their private sector counterparts?

Of course it is. And it is also the same happy and motivated workforce which enjoys index-linked pensions and some ridiculously early retirement ages (just take the armed forces, firemen and police for starters).

The sad fact is that most private sector employees can whistle for a better WLB, because the economics of running a business just can’t support it.

Unfortunately the public sector lives in a different world and they do not have to live with the same economic reality. And despite many more billions of pounds being spent on the public sector, and many more thousands of jobs being created, it still does not deliver better services.

However the real crime is that it is private sector employees (who enjoy less job security, receive worse pensions, have to work longer hours each week until they are older) who are funding their “happy and motivated” counterparts in the public sector.

Work life balance? Pah, only if you’re a civil servant.

Simon Howard is a founder of Work Communications and writes the Jobfile column for the Sunday Times.