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Work-Life Balance: A Comparison of Policies in the UK and Australia Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 17th, 2021


This paper examines the literature on work-life balance in both Australia and the UK. It tries to understand the basic issues in those countries that contribute to work-life conflict and compares the policies pursued by the two countries in tackling the problems in balancing work and life. After a review of the literature, the paper finds that while several laws have been enacted in both countries in defining and addressing the problems at the workplace. However, there are deficiencies in the systems in both countries. Notably, Australia follows a policy of least state intervention and the government generally lets the employer and employee decide among them as to what policies to adopt in an enterprise. In contrast, the UK government has in place laws having more teeth. These laws prescribe certain rights for the employer and employee and also define some obligations of the employer and employee that are binding on them.

However, the governments in both countries generally feel that work-life balance would be better addressed by the concerned parties themselves. Thus, the governments try and maintain the distance of the state from work-life problem issues. But, there are certain similarities of approach in the two countries. For example, both rely on promotional campaigns and state agencies to ‘spread the good word’. Problems facing the countries are also similar. Both countries have a rapidly aging population. More women are opting for paid work than in the past. As a result, with a decrease in the number of carers at home, increasingly families depend on outside agencies to take care of their dependents. The UK is ahead of Australia in many respects. But both countries follow passive intervention methods aided by some laws to ensure work-life balance. Much needs to be done to achieve better work-life balance, less stress at the workplace, etc

Introduction, Aims and Objectives

Lewis (1996) defines work-life balance as “…employment based on emergent new values which does not discriminate against those with caring or other non-work responsibilities, and which provides an opportunity for people to realize their full potential in work and non-work domains”. The Work Foundation of the UK (formerly called as The Industrial Society) observes, ‘Work-life balance is about people having a measure of control over when, where and how they work. It is achieved when an individual’s right to a fulfilled life inside and outside paid work is accepted and respected as the norm to the mutual benefit of the individual, business and society” www.employersforwork-lifebalance.org.uk). Again, Employers for Work-Life Balance define work-life balance as “about people having a measure of control over when, where and how they work, …achieved when an individual’s right to a fulfilled life inside and outside paid work is accepted and respected as the norm to the mutual benefit of the individual, business and society”. The New Zealand Department of Labour perceives balancing of work and life as “effectively managing the juggling act between paid work and the other activities that are important to people”.

The DTI & Scotland Office (2001) observes that, “Work-life balance isn’t only about families and childcare. Nor is it about working less. It’s about working ‘smart’, about being enough to give all you need to both work and home, without jeopardizing one for the other; and it’s a necessity for everyone, at whatever your stage in life”. Byrne (2005) also observes that work-life balance may be affected by any one or more of measures like “flexi time, staggered hours, time off in lieu, compressed working hours, shift swapping, self-rostering, annualized hours, job-sharing, term-time working, working from home, teleworking, breaks from work, or, flexible benefits”. Wise (2003) adds that, “Essentially, work-life balance is about helping employees to better manage their work and non-work time. A number of policies can facilitate this: by reducing hours (e.g. part-time, job-share); changing when the hours are worked (e.g. compressed working week, flexi time, term-time working); where hours are worked (e.g. home working); or providing periods of paid or unpaid leave (e.g. compassionate leave, parental leave, study leave, career break). Appropriate balance and the means of getting there depends on individual and business needs”

Russel and Bowman (2000) note that, “work-life balance (WLB) is an important area of human resource management that is receiving increasing attention from government, researchers, management and employee representatives, and the popular media”. They also state that “employers view the benefits or working conditions that they provide to help employees balance the family and work domains as work-life benefits”. Bardoel et al (1998) as also Kramar (1997) also note that “Work-life balance strategies in an organizational setting include policies covering flexible work arrangements, child and dependant care, and family and parental leave”. Undoubtedly, “work-life balance has emerged as a strategic HR issue and is an important part of an employee retention strategy” (Lewis and Cooper, 1995), and Grover and Crooker (1995) observe “more flexible HR strategies do have significantly beneficial effects”. Thus, various scholars have emphasized the benefits of work-life balance and various governments have implemented work-life balance policies across the world.

In the light of the above, this paper tries to understand the work-life policies and employment structures adopted in the UK and Australia, and also compare the same. It identifies several characteristics of work-life balance policies that distinguish one country from the other. In so doing, this paper traces the origin of the work-life balance concepts in the countries and also examines the social and political considerations that have been responsible for the evolution of the present-day policy framework in the two countries. It even tries to explain the differences or similarities in policy in the countries.

Work-Life Balance in the United Kingdom

The policy in the UK is based on the need to honor its commitments to the European Commission (EC) which views work-life balance as an instrument for attaining greater gender equality. Accordingly, the government in the UK thought it appropriate to implement laws for ensuring equal treatment of full-time and part-time workers and also for providing for maximum working hours and a minimum period of rest and leave. The laws also provide parents leave and grant all employees additional time off from work in case of emergencies, particularly involving dependents of employees.

The laws also provide for extended facility of maternity leave for female employees. In fact, recently the UK government has also implemented legislation for providing extended maternity rights, paid paternity leave, and a right for availing flexible employment opportunities in case of parents of children aged less than six years. The scenario was previously one of low employee protection. But the situation is gradually changing in keeping with EU stipulations. Thus, the government has put in place a minimum legal framework in order to achieve better adoption of larger EU objectives. But it also recognizes the inherent lethargy of employers in the UK in general in adopting better work-life balance strategies. Hence, it has also sponsored a work-life balance campaign, which preaches the benefits of work-life balance to businesses and employers by way of improved motivation and productivity of employees.

A survey of businesses operating in the UK is a pointer to how employers perceive work-life balance issues. Thus, Hogarth, Hasluck and Pierre (2000) find that “flexible work opportunities are rare, and mostly (80 percent) consist of part-time work. Also, only 22 percent occasionally work from home, around 10 percent have flexi-time, 20 percent of employers do not provide any flexible working avenues, and less than 5 percent employers offer compressed working weeks, term time working, or job share”. The same study also finds that, “90 percent of employers in the UK provide their employees bereavement leave, around 45 percent provide for paternity leave and less than 30 percent employers provide for study leave and career breaks to their employees”. However, the study notes further “the state of care facilities provided by the employers is still lower with only 2 percent of employers providing for a crèche at the workplace, just 1 percent providing for subsidized nurseries, and around 3 percent helping in other ways like providing for child care vouchers, etc”.

In another study, Dex and Smith (2002) observe in an examination of the nature and pattern of family-friendly work policies in the UK that, the employment conditions in larger organizations as also in public sector organizations are more family-friendly or flexible than in smaller or private organizations. Flexible working conditions are found to be more prevalent in the organizations “which have recognized unions, where there is better employee participation in management decision-making, where the women employees are more in number and also where the workforce is better educated and also exercise better discretion”. While the results of the study depict the overall working conditions of the companies in the UK in general, in a particular study of the Scottish workplace conditions, too, Bond et al (2002) observe “workplace practices are more flexible in large companies having recognized unions than in smaller companies which have no employee representative forums”. Additionally, it finds that part-time work is the common mode of flexible arrangement in place in the Scottish companies.

Another aspect of the work-life balance issue is the maximum number of work hours that employees put in per week and hence the minimum available rest period that they enjoy. Studies find that the United Kingdom has the highest number of people who work long hours in entire Europe. Indeed the “average, collectively agreed upon work-week in the U.K. is around 37.5 hours, whereas full-time employees in the country are also found to work an average of 43.6 hours per week” (www.eurofound.ie). A European labour force survey also finds that nearly 30 percent full-time employees work more than 46 hours per week, while the EU average is only about 12 percent. Fagan (2000) also observe that the UK has “the greatest dispersion of hours worked by employees in Europe”.

The Working Time Directive of 1998 does prescribe a maximum time limit of 48 hours working time per week. But this does not apply to all employees. There are many clauses to opt out and various exemptions, which prevent a uniform and satisfactory measure for ensuring maximum working hours per week from being achieved. Even Hogarth, Hasluck and Pierre (2000) maintain that managers and professionals put in the most work hours but are the least protected by the Working Time Directive. The consequence is that many employees work harder and longer so that, they can spare less time for their family life. Thus, many such employees feel tired and irritable, get increasingly less motivated and often develop severe health problems.

Perhaps the most significant impetus for development of work-life policies in the UK is the increasing participation of women in paid employment and their lesser involvement in family life. But even in the present day, although men are increasingly inclined towards family life, women are maximum involved in family life. This is evidenced by the fact that more women are in part-time employment and take responsibility of child and home care, whereas men still putting in longer working hours.

Another major reason for introducing work-life policies is the ageing population of the country, particularly the Scottish population. In fact, a study (GROS, 2002) has found that the population is ageing and fast declining. Duncan (2002) also observes that with the fall in birth rate, the ageing population becomes increasingly dependant on the working population and this could seriously impede economic growth across entire Europe. The need for improving birth rates in turn calls for improved work life reconciliation; the policies geared to improve family life and productive work hours can be implemented for addressing the problem. In this respect, the UK government has attempted to remedy the situation by scrapping the statutory retirement age and have also made state and occupational pension schemes more flexible. In effect, the reduction in pension paid to people who work post-retirement ensures that lesser number of people work part-time prior to retirement and are thus better able to manage family and care responsibilities.

One other major reason for adopting work-life balance is that the competing demands of work and family lead to increasing work-life conflict. Such conflict affects people with care responsibilities more severely. Work-life conflict also “causes psychological and other health problems, creates marital problems, increases absence from work due to sickness, and also decreases job and life satisfaction” (Evans and Steptoe 2002; Crouter et al. 2001; Westman 2001; Kossek and Ozeki 1998).

Byrne avers that, “Employers can hope to gain a more motivated, productive and less stressed workforce, which (in turn) can result in making employees feel valued, attract a wider range of candidates, such as older part-time workers and carers, increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, help the employer gain reputation of being an employer of choice, help retain valued employees, reduce costs, and maximize available labour”. Byrne also says that “employees benefit from being happier at work and at home through a greater responsibility and a sense of ownership, by having better relations with management, as a result of improved self-esteem, health, concentration and confidence, by being shown loyalty and commitment through not bringing problems at home to work, and vice versa, from having the time to focus more on life outside work, and by having greater control of their working lives”.

Work-Life Balance Policies in the UK

This paper examines the legal and social framework that contributes to better work and family life in the UK. Accordingly, a number of work-life balance initiatives and the legal acts that govern the same are examined in the following paragraphs. However, it needs to be stated that the official work-life balance campaign by the UK government was launched only in 2000. This campaign is actually a part of the employment relation policies and the main agency responsible for the campaign implementation is the Department of Trade and Industry or DTI. This agency also looks after employments rights issues and legislation. The strategy is to target those sectors of the industry which have significant work-life balance problems, help decrease the long hours put in by most British employees at work, and also provide timely support services. The DTI tries to influence business policies in adopting better work-life balance as a part of the usual human resource policies and provides a host of information on the benefits of balancing work and life to employees and to employers alike, by way of improved work productivity and quality, less stress, and better individual and organizational health.

Sex Discrimination

The Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 deals with marital and other gender discriminations in the workplace. The UK government recognizes that long working hours can interfere with the employee’s family life and can also infringe upon human rights of the employee.

Parental Leave

The Employment Rights Act of 1996, as amended by the Employment Act of 2002, prescribes a mandatory 26 weeks paid Ordinary Maternity Leave. This statute covers all employees. An additional maternity leave of 26 weeks is also provided for by the Act. The European Commission also mandates by means of its Pregnant Workers Directive that pregnant workers be provided time off from work for receiving antenatal care. The Act explicitly provides for this and such employees also receive normal pay during the time off. And, in contrast to maternity leave, the Act also provides for paid Paternity Leave of 2 weeks.

But the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations of 1999 is much more comprehensive in its provisions regarding parental leave. Thus, the Act provides that those under contract of work is eligible for 13 weeks of leave from work in case of each individual child for whom such employee is having parental responsibility or is registered as the father of the child under the provisions of the Birth and Deaths Registration Act. The Act also stipulates varying periods of time-off with varying status of the child. As per amendment in April 2003, legislation was enacted so that, in case of a disabled child, the parent can avail such parental leave within the age of 18 years of the child. But in case of a normal child, such age is mandated as a maximum of 5 years of age of the child within which the parent can avail the parental leave.

In case of an adopted child, the Act also clearly prescribes that such parental leave is to be exercised within 18 years of age of the child or by the 5th anniversary of the adoption, whichever is earlier. Also, employees with children who enjoy a disability living allowance enjoy 18 months leave. However an underlying requirement for such provision of the act to be applicable is that the employee, in order to receive such parental leave, has to be employed for at least a year and also has or may have in future, the responsibility for a child (Amended by the Maternity and Parental Leave Amendment Regulations, 2001). The employee, if found eligible, can thus avail change in hours or time of work, as also work from home Such work arrangements can include annualized hours, compressed hours, flexitime, work in shifts, job-sharing, unpaid leave during school holidays, or even staggered hours of work.

The Act also considers the employer’s obligations to the employee in regard to parental leave as an implied obligation of the employer as to trust and confidence to the employee as also to any terms and conditions of employment. Such employment obligations include the employer’s obligation to give due notice of termination of employment to the employee, and an obligation to provide compensation in case of redundancy, and/or disciplinary procedures. The employee also is having an implied obligation under the provisions of the Act to the employer with respect to good faith and in complying with terms and conditions of employment while on parental leave. Also, in wanting to protect both employee and employer rights and convenience, the Act envisages that in case the employee takes less than 4 weeks parental leave, then he or she can join the same job; but if he or she takes more than 4 weeks of parental leave, then he or she can, if so required, join some other job, as appropriate.

The Act also protects the employee from detriment caused by any act, or deliberately caused by employer’s failure to act because of any reason like employee’s pregnancy, his or her seeking and availing such parental leave, non signing of a workforce agreement by the employee, for representing the workforce members, or such reasons. Dismissal from service for any of these reasons has been made unfair by the provisions of the Act. The UK government also prescribes some non-binding guidelines, which effectively complement the legal provisions. Thus, the existing framework envisages also that an employer may waive the one year qualifying period, or can ignore the age of the child’s age in granting parental leave, or even that such parental leave can be given by the employers, if they so desire, even to grand-parents or foster parents of the child. The Employment Opportunities Commission or EOC, which wanted to promote flexible work arrangements, primarily piloted such legislation. In fact, the EOC had in place a larger campaign, which attempted to give support to parents seeking flexi arrangements at work due to family needs, and also recognized that the usual work hours no longer served the purpose in all cases.

Part-time Employment

UK laws recognize that an employer needs to be more flexible in considering employee needs so that the laws do not directly or indirectly discriminate against the employee needing genuine time offs or part-time employment. Under the Flexible Working (Procedural Requirements) Regulations 2002 and the Flexible Working (Eligibility, Complaints and Remedies) Regulations 2002, better worker access to part time work is envisaged. Also, Sec 80F of the Employment Relations Act prescribes the conditions under which an employee can request for flexible work arrangement for the purpose of caring for a child. In addition to hours of work and the arrangement of such part-time or flexible work, the employee can also, under the law, request for desired choice of place of work.

The Flexible Working Regulations 2002 covers employees under contract and also considers that a worker is an individual under contract of work or any other type of contract of service promised to be done for another who is not the individual’s client or customer. The Act stipulates that the employer must hold a meeting within 28 days of the date that an employee applies for contract variation and is also required, within 14 days of such meeting, to convey the decision in this regard to the employee concerned. Generally, the employee is supposed to agree to the reasonable application of the employee. However, if the employer feels that granting of variable work arrangement as requested by the employee can entail higher costs, impede the company ability to meet customer demands, result in detriment to quality or performance, or hamper reorganization of work among remaining employees, or there are planned structural changes that the employer wants to implement and hence, the granting of such employment variation to the employee may be an obstacle to such a planned change, etc., then he may very well refuse such request from the employee for work variation. Of course, the concerned employee can appeal by notice within 14 days of receipt of decision from the employer and may even be accompanied by another worker from the organization or a union representative during the meeting following the appeal.

The Flexible Working (Eligibility, Complaints, and Remedies) Regulations Act 2002 requires that the employee be employed for a continuous 26 weeks in case he or she wants a contract variation. There are also other conditions that require that the employee must be either a father, mother, adopted, guardian, or foster parent of the child, married to or the partner of the child’s mother, father, adopted, guardian, or foster parent who lives with the child and the mother….and has responsibility or may have in the future, responsibility for caring for a child [Reg. 2 (1) and 3]. There are also provisions in the Act allowing for the employee to complain to the Tribunal and in case the Tribunal finds the complaint justified, it may mandate as much as 8 weeks pay to be paid to the employee.

Another legislation, The Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 that covers workers as defined under the Employment Rights Act, stipulates that part-time workers who can show that they are disadvantaged as compared to comparable full-time workers, can avail overtime pay only if they have worked in excess of equivalent full-time hours. Thus, the Act follows the EC stipulations but it does not envisage the right to part-time work. Actually, only the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equal Pay Act of 1970 ensure legally enforceable rights.

Leave for Family Emergencies

The Employment Rights Act of 1996 (ERA), as amended by the Employment Relations Act 1999, gives the right to all employees for taking time off (unpaid) for care emergencies and covers exigencies like a dependant’s illness, birth of a child, or injury suffered, even including mental illness. The right extends to situations like unexpected termination of care for a dependant, case of death of the dependant, any incident involving a child for whom the employee is responsible, etc. A reasonable period of leave like one or two days is considered sufficient so that the employee can attend to all requirements in caring for the dependant or child during the emergency.

Other Initiatives

The UK government has also launched two funds to provide assistance to employers, the Challenge Fund and the Partnership Fund. The Partnership Fund provides funding to employers for improving relationship between employees and employer, and for improving employee job satisfaction. Various projects for improving work-life balance have already been financed and also many others, which have identified causes of stress in the work place, have also been funded. The second fund, the Challenge Fund, helps pay consultants who provide innovative solutions at the workplace for bettering work-life balance. This fund is more employee-centric and attempts to provide finance for ways to improve flexible work arrangements.

The UK government also created the Employers for Work-Life Balance, an alliance of employers who actively collaborate with the government for ensuring and establishing best practices in the industry. This organization provides resources, including a benchmarking tool, which can be accessed from its website for helping employers and employees achieve better work-life balance. Also, the government set up a standard in 2000, which envisaged the commitment from the management of employer organizations towards assuring a better work-life balance. This was sought to be achieved by including planned systems for incorporating work-life balance initiatives, by acting on the planned initiatives for ensuring work-life balance, and also by reviewing and assessing for changes, if required.

Work-Life Balance in Australia

Haar (2006), Pocock (2005), and Thornwaite (2004), among others, have conducted research on work-life issues in Australia. Also, Hamilton and Mail (2003) note that “those workers who can organize a better balance try to do so by many means in an attempt to increase their individual well-being: by changing jobs, reducing their hours, finding a better boss, or ‘downshifting’ and weakening their work attachment or changing its location”. In a study, Pocock (2005) observes that work-life imbalance in Australia is exacerbated by “declining male participation, rise of women, growth in demand for jobs and for long work hours, and also the increase in short work hours, particularly during casual employment”.

The same study also notes that, “overall participation rates in Australia climb upwards even as more women compensate for fewer men (in employment)”. In fact, says the author, work-life issues have gained predominance due to “steady convergence of male and female labour participation rates”. Demand for paid work is also more, since Australians, whether male or female, are found to gain identity through the paid work. Even would-be mothers try and hold on to paid jobs so that the competing demands on them of motherhood and work create work-life conflict later, and thus, authors like Pocock (2003), Probert (2002), and Reed et al (2003) even note “their work attachment increasingly collides with their later identification as mothers and carers”. Even more alarming is the increased long hours at work put in by employees in Australia. Recently, the International Labour Organization found that Australia had the fourth largest number of people who worked 50 hours per week or even more (This was about 20 percent in 2000), and also that the total number of Australians who worked such long hours was growing fastest among all industrialized nation (ILO 2004).

It is commonly felt that work is intruding into family life more and more as larger number of family members like mothers and persons caring for dependants try to enhance payments by partaking of paid employment. Even work hours are seen to have changed in nature and in longer number of hours worked. Often, working women who have to care for dependants opt for part-time work in order to ensure better work-life balance in their lives. As per one estimate, around 44 per cent of women in Australia are part-timers whereas the average figure in all of OECD is only 26 per cent (Pocock, 2003).

Most often, such part-time jobs do not provide for paid holidays or sick leaves. While such part-time employment does not offer these benefits, yet, the increase in part-time jobs indicate that increasing number of Australians are attempting to achieve better work-life balance in their lives. More alarmingly, work hours are getting longer. Thus, Australia has conditions very unlike those in some other industrialised nations like France, Britain or the US. In those countries, government is seized of the need to decrease the number of work hours put in per week by the employees. Obviously, work-life policies in those countries are better geared to achieve balance. In addition to the longer hours worked by the average Australian, the greater workloads borne by the employees and low support from employers are also contributing to overall work-life conflict with generally less quality interactions between family members (Allen, Loudoun, and Peetz 2005).

Leave is another problem area affecting the work-life balance of Australian employees in general. Thus, only four weeks of annual holidays can be availed by employees normally in Australia, whereas in other countries this period is considerably more. Many casual employees do not get any paid holiday. One study (Denniss 2003) found that a high 58 percent of full-time employees did not avail annual leave in full, while 42 percent of these employees stated that they could not avail leave due to work pressures. Pocock (2005) succinctly observes that loss of leave entitlement, hesitation to use leave, growing intensity of work and increasing work hours are creating greater imbalance between work and life. Also, the very nature of Australian families nowadays, are compounding things further. Households are increasingly dual-income or single mother earner households.

In such a situation, the family is time poor, care rich, and consumption dependant. Pocock (2003; 2005). Watson et al (2003) also observe that “women are increasingly getting involved in paid work, while the length of full-time work hours is also increased greatly, so that, there is less time as also lesser control over the time”. Many households avail of outside help for supplementing the aid that could have been given by their women, going outside to ear their pay through full or part time employment. Employees having household care of dependant family also feel the need to avail more flexible work arrangements so that they can better balance their paid jobs and their home responsibilities. In this respect, Pocock observes (2003) that “more working people constitute such ‘carers’ of dependants (around 40 percent of all employees), but the efforts to address the larger issue of work-life balance in Australia are still patchy and small”

Work-Life Balance Policies in Australia

The Australian government has constituted a Work and Family Unit within the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations for providing information and advice on improvement of work-life balance. The Unit tries to promote the advantages of flexible work arrangements, and encourages employees and employers to enter into mutual agreements which can safeguard both work and family obligations. The government has prepared various fact-sheets which, it hopes, can succeed in achieving better work-life balance. In 1992, the government also instituted the National Work and Family Awards which are administered by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry as also the Business Council of Australia. The awards are an attempt to promote flexible work arrangements and also an effort to balance work and life of employees better. The government also provides various case studies to drive home the message that work-life balance is essential. Additionally, it has also developed a guide to help the employers assess their status of work-life balance strategies, and help them evolve better policies in this regard.

However, the Australian government has failed to develop an effective legislation to promote work-life balance measures. The industrial relations among employee and employers are far too complex, the laws as diverse as the states in which the issues arise, and generally, a bargaining system is prevalent, post the 1993 Reform Act. In later years, the system of bargaining reduced the awards system to one for providing a minimum standard of work. In 1996, the Workplace Relations Act introduced the Australian Workplace Agreements as the standard form of employment contracts. Thus, the government appears to take the role of facilitator of workplace bargains between employer and employee and is quite passive in its approach. The Workplace Relations Act or WR Act also seems to be the defining piece of legislation that seeks to promote work-life balance for employees. The government is neutral to both employer and employee and encourages the spirit of cooperation and mutually advantageous work arrangements and practices. It also seeks to prevent discrimination.

The WR Act grants employees unpaid maternity and parental leave of 52 weeks. The Act does not generally allow both parents of a child leave simultaneously, and in any case, the combined leave of both parents must be a maximum of 52 weeks. Leave can be availed for the purpose of adopting a child in addition to shouldering normal child and dependant care responsibilities. The Act mandates the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to grant awards at ceremonies. With the institution of the Australian Workplace Agreements, awards serve only as a safety net relating to provision of sick leave, parental leave, and leave for adopting a child. Additionally, there can be certified agreements which are made collectively between employers and employees/unions and AWA s (workplace agreements with a single employee).

Comparing Policies of Australia and the UK

Compared with the U.K., Australian legislation is not as clearly defined or comprehensive. Nor does it seek to guarantee some basic rights of employees as has been attempted by the UK laws. The legislation in Australia is generally perceived to lack teeth and is half-hearted. In fact, it is only in recent times, that the government has come to be aware of the essentiality of adopting work-life balance policies. While the situation is more or less similar in both countries, the UK appears to be more cohesive and definitive of approach in tackling all issues relating to work-life balance or lack of it. The same problems like longer work hours put in by employees, the increasing age of the population, more women opting for paid work, and the need to adopt flexible work arrangements in order to allow workers to handle both family care and paid work are common to both the countries. But the differences in policies of both the governments and the corporations that function in the respective countries are very apparent from the foregoing paragraphs.

In the UK, there is emphasis on market forces to play their part and little direct intervention on the part of the government in relation to family arrangements. Promotional activities are sought to be encouraged with the objective of improving the work-life balance of the employees. And this is true of both countries. But, the UK also specifies some standards to be adopted by the management of the companies and holds employers responsible for stress of the employees in some measure. It also needs to be mentioned that there is no equivalent government agency similar to the UK Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in Australia. Neither is there any legislation similar to the UK’s Health and Safety Act of 1974, which guarantees protection to the employee from stress caused by poor work arrangements. The UK law imposes legal duty on the employers to assure their employees protection of health and safety, since the government clearly recognizes that work-related stress is due to poor working conditions and the employer is responsible and answerable for such stress caused to an employee. This acts as a pressure on employers to undertake responsibility for the safety and health of the employee at all times during his employment in the company, and the effects of work on family life are thus considered by the government in favour of the employee.

For the most part, the UK policies seem more effective and the social and legal framework seems to be more organized than it is in Australia. While it is true that both the countries attempt to follow a policy of minimum intervention and seek cooperation between employer and employee in achieving work-life balance, and both perceive that the issues need to be regulated for mutual benefits of both employer and employed, the approach to tackle the problems are in some respects diverse and unequal. In addition, the outside or private agencies in the UK that seek to promote work-life balance appear more organized and active than their counterparts in Australia.

Another important feature of work-life policy regulation in Australia is that more employees are covered by legislation in case the work-life policies are negotiated via enterprise agreements, in keeping with the Australian government’s affinity for industrial bargains. Also, the system prevalent in Australia prior to legislative change of the 1990s was based upon the ‘basic wage’ idea enshrined from the “Harvester” case of 1907. Such ‘basic wage was “the wage which would provide sufficient income for a family of five if the employee worked full-time (Davis and Lansbury, 1998). At that time, less number of women needed to be in employment. This is not to say the same is true in the present time, since it has been established that as much as 40 percent women are employed in Australia. Also, the existence of health care benefits provided by the government in Australia to all cases of employees, whether full-time or part-time, means that more and more people are taking to part-time employment in Australia than they are in the UK, where the concept of part-time employment is still to catch on among employees.


While both countries have some similarities and some diversity in their approach towards implementing work-life balance policies, it does appear that they are seized of the emergent need to speed up such work-life balance due to a host of reasons. These reasons include benefits to the employees as also advantages for the employers. The benefits that could accrue to employees if work-life policies are successfully implemented include better productivity, greater rest, lower stress, better health and motivation, to name some. Also paid work along with flexible work hours do mean that an employee can better manage both his family and work obligations to the best of his abilities and time at his disposal. For the employer, better working arrangements mean that the company stands to improve productivity and profitability. Also, both the employers and employees can better satisfy their obligations and better enjoy their rights under the various legislations enacted in this regard.

While the policies in the UK and Australia are all geared towards a common end, the policies in the UK are more proactive and appear to protect both the employers and the employees. But Australian policies are more in the nature of minimum intervention so that the employer and employed together can work out mutually beneficial agreements amongst themselves. The legal system in Australia is also much more complex than in the UK and has evolved a standard agreement format to be adopted by the employer and employee so that a better work-life balance is achieved through common enterprise. But fact remains that Australian law, although more advanced than those in the US, for example, are still behind the UK legislation in protecting or even ensuring better work-life balance.


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