• Work life balance

    In 2011, working with Morgan Cole LLP, the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice ran a workshop for employers on The Flexible Workplace to explore flexible working as a valuable tool to recruit and retain talent. It combined Morgan Cole’s legal expertise with the centre’s research on work life balance developed through projects funded by the former Department of Trade and Industry and LFHE (2004-6).

    Work life balance is the ability to achieve harmony between the demands arising from a job and those arising from personal circumstances in life. An individual’s work life balance needs adjusting throughout different stages of life to reflect changes in personal circumstances, job role and work environment.

    Read about our work

  • Dr Ivan Mitchell has recently been working on a study into the psychological experience of work for academic staff. The core aim of the investigation is to explore the ways in which the job roles, expectations and perceptions of work-life balance are changing and to look at what this means for early career academics. By investigating such themes it is hoped we can better understand the issues and experiences of working in higher education and how the sector is currently operating. It is also hoped that we can consider how recent policy and institutional changes are impacting the perceptions and experiences of this particular group of workers on these matters.

    Work life balance is important to everybody, as it enables us to improve the quality of our lives. Work life balance isn’t only about families and childcare, nor is it about working less. It’s about working ‘smart’ and about being fresh enough to give all you need to both work and home, without jeopardising one for the other. And it is a necessity for everyone, at whatever stage you are in your life.
    (Department of Trade and Industry (2001) Work Life Balance: The Essential Guide to Work-Life Balance, p5)

    Working patterns may be adjusted to take into account the needs of employees as well as those of their job so that everyone, regardless of age, race, gender or disability, can achieve a balance that enables them to more easily combine their employment with other aspects of their lives.

    Work life balance is an integral part of the University's Human Resources Strategy. We are committed to being an inclusive employer, responsive to the needs of a diverse workforce. Both employees and the University can benefit by a working environment that supports work life balance, as this can lead to:

    • Staff feeling more valued and more loyal to their employer
    • Increased motivation and job satisfaction
    • Reduced levels of stress
    • Reduced levels of absenteeism
    • Improved recruitment and retention
    • Better working relations

    In 2003 the University carried out an audit of staff experience of work-life balance at Oxford Brookes. This was done through an online anonymous questionnaire and through a series of focus groups. Almost a quarter (23%) of employees, broadly representative of the University staff population responded to the questionnaire and 60 members of staff from all schools and directorates volunteered to take part in the focus group discussions.

    Did you know that?

    • 58% of staff who responded to the questionnaire do not have dependant children. This shows that work-life balance matters to all and not to just people with childcare responsibilities.
    • 90% of staff who returned the questionnaire indicated that it is important to them to achieve a balance between paid work and personal life and that it enables them to work better.
    • 84% of respondents also agreed that to enable staff to achieve a balance between employment and other aspects of their life should be a shared responsibility for employers and employees.
    • Over half of respondents (55%) would like to work more flexibly and the working arrangements most often cited as being of interest are:
      • flexitime (48%)
      • working from home occasionally (40%)
      • compressed working hours (39%)
    • The most common reasons given for wanting more flexible working are:
      • To suit overall needs (30%)
      • To reduce the amount of travelling (24%)
      • To pursue a course of study or training (19%)
      • Childcare responsibilities (18%)
      • To pursue a major interest outside work (14%)

    Evidence from the University's audit supports the claim that work-life balance can lead to improved staff retention. This is what some members of staff had to say:

    • “I am happy with my work life balance. In fact, it is the contract I’m on and the flexibility it gives me that stops me looking for jobs outside the University”. (Female support staff)
    • “The opportunity to try a condensed week enabled me to stay in post when my partner was relocated”. (Female support staff)

    View the full report (PDF, 373 KB)

    Within Oxford Brookes

    Outside Oxford Brookes

    The University is working in partnership with NATFHE, UNISON and the University Administrators’ Forum to review its policies which impact on staff work-life balance and to improve its current practices.

    The main objectives of the project are:

    • To improve communication of University work-life balance policies and practices
    • To review existing University policies that impact on staff work-life balance and develop new ones
    • To provide staff development on work-life balance
    • To share good practice

    The full project action plan is available to read.

    The overall project is partly funded by the Department of Trade and Industry and it is aimed at developing best work-life balance practice within Brookes.

    Click here to see information about the people who are involved in the Work-Life Balance project

    The Work-Life Balance Project is being carried out by a team of Brookes staff who bring different perspectives and expertise to it. If you want to find out more about this project or you wish to give us your views on work-life balance policies and practices you can contact one of the team members. They are:

    Work Life Balance group photo

    Left to right: Barbara Moran, Bob Langridge, Simonetta Manfredi, Krys Daniels, Liz Doherty

    Jock Coats has worked in Computer Services since 1996. He is also a Hall Warden and has been active in local politics which has given him a flavour of the work-life balance issues posed by such outside commitments. For most of his time at Brookes he has been a branch officer in the UNISON branch, most recently, until 2004, Equality Officer, and has been APT&C staff representative on the Academic Board.

    Krys Daniels is Deputy Academic Registrar (Admissions) at Oxford Brookes University. Her interest in the project is as follows: " As a manager with responsibility for a number of staff, I am interested in looking at ways staff can optimise the work they do for the university and have a better personal life. Working on the project is very interesting and I feel that I am making a positive contribution towards achieving a better work-life balance for all staff".

    Liz Doherty is Co-Director of the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and a Reader in the Business School. She has researched aspects of equal opportunities and work-life balance over the last decade as well as taking part in many practical projects to improve organisational practice in these areas. She is the Work-Life Balance Project Advisor. She says this about the Work-Life Balance project ‘The Project provides a wonderful opportunity to make sure that work-life balance becomes a reality for many more people at Brookes – at whatever stage they have reached in their lives. My daughter is now grown up and childcare is no longer an issue for me, but I may want a career break at some stage in the next few years or I may need some help coping as my parents get older’.

    Michelle Holliday has worked at Brookes for 3 years. Originally the University Market Research Officer she became involved in the Work-Life Balance project at the beginning of 2003. Her initial interest in work-life balance has since developed further to encompass equal opportunities and diversity and she is currently working as Equal Opportunities and Diversity Co-ordinator for the university 4 days per week whilst continuing as Market Research officer 1 day per week. Michelle says: ‘Managing the requirements of two jobs and two children means that I am constantly reminded of the importance of work-life balance’.

    Bob Langridge is a Senior Lecturer in economics, planning, business and estate management and a researcher in transport related issues. Bob is also the secretary of the Headington branch of NATFHE and the academic staff representative on the Board of Governors. He is taking part in this project because: ‘In the past, I had to balance my work at Brookes with being a carer (yes, there are male ones too!) and being a county councillor. I believe that all staff should be able to balance work with a healthy and fulfilling life outside of work and I am particularly concerned about the impact of semesterisation on the home life of academic staff’.

    Simonetta Manfredi is Co-Director of the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and she is the Work-Life Balance Project Manager. She describes her interest in the project as follows “ As an employee of Brookes and a single mother I have a self-vested interest in contributing towards the improvement of work-life balance policies and practices within the University. As a researcher who has studied work-life balance issues in the workplace I am interested in understanding how sustainable change can be achieved within organisations”.

    Barbara Moran is Research Support Officer at the Centre for Diversity Policy Research at Oxford Brookes University. She has worked in various areas of the University over the last 8 years, and is an active member of the Administrators’ Forum, where she will be able to give and get feedback on project developments. Barbara says “I look forward to being able to make a contribution to the project where the outcomes could improve the work/life balance of a large number of people, whilst contributing towards staff retention and an improved working environment at the University”.

    An overview of university policies that support work-life balance

    The university is committed to helping all its employees to strike a balance between paid employment and their personal life. To achieve this it offers a range of special leave arrangements and flexible working options which are available to all employees, subject to operational requirements.

    This page tells you about your statutory rights and about the additional measures offered by the university to support work-life balance. More information on most of these policies can be found in the Employment Handbook (direct links to relevant sections are below), or contact your link HR manager (link to intranet).

    New work-life balance policies

    Please note that these policies do not yet all have their supporting forms. If you have any queries, please contact your link HR team(link to intranet).

    Additional support for families and carers

    To find out more about special leave arrangements and flexible working options, see the Employment Handbook, or you can contact your school or directorate link HR manager or your Trade Union representative:


    The purpose of this action plan is to outline action that will be taken by the Directorate of Human Resources in partnership with Trade Unions and the Administrators’ Forum over a period of 12 months to implement the recommendations formulated in the work-life balance audit report, in order to improve current practices. The main findings of this report were presented last term to Staff Joint Committee, to the Board of Governors’ Employment Committee, to the Vice-Chancellor’s Advisory Group and the report recommendations were approved.

    Since then the Directorate of Human Resources has made a successful bid with the NATFHE Branches and with the Administrators’ Forum to the DTI for grant of £ 40,000 to work together to implement the recommendations and develop and develop best practice.

    Action to be taken

    The overall aims of the action devised in this plan are to develop a best practice approach to work-life balance in partnership with Trade Unions and the University Administrators Forum, in order to improve employees’ job satisfaction and performance and the recruitment and retention of staff. More specifically this action plan intends to achieve the following main objectives, as identified by the report recommendations:

    Improved communication of existing policies and practices. To communicate clearly and effectively the university commitment to work-life balance and to raise staff awareness and knowledge of university policies and flexible working arrangements available to them to balance work and personal life. Action to be taken:

    • Making information fully accessible to all staff as well as to job applicants through a user-friendly brochure and through a section dedicated to work-life balance on the university web-site.
    • Provide training to the Schools’ and Directorates Equal Opportunity and Diversity Co-ordinators to ensure that they have the necessary knowledge to offer support and advice on work life balance issues.

    Review and development of existing work-life balance policies. To review current University policies that support work-life balance to ensure that they match staff needs and to extend their scope wherever appropriate in order to promote an inclusive notion of work-life balance for all. Action to be taken:

    • Setting up a working party in partnership with Trade Unions and the Administrators’ Forum to undertake a review of relevant policies and formulate new policy proposals.

    Staff development. To ensure that there is consistency in the way that all line managers implement university policies and practices that support work-life balance, and to encourage them to develop innovative approaches to flexible working. To enable all staff to contribute towards the development of a work-life balance ethos and to help them to find effective ways to balance their paid work with personal life. Action to be taken:

    • Running a series of focus groups with line managers to discuss current use of flexible work, possible extension of flexible working arrangements, and to share innovative ideas and good practice.
    • Mainstreaming work-life balance policies and issues via their inclusion in the existing university management development programme, induction programme for new staff and the core staff-training programme on equal opportunities and diversity.

    Sharing good practice. To disseminate good practice across the University. Action to be taken:

    • Running a series of seminars for managers to consider internal examples of good practice as well as examples from other Higher Education Institutions and local employers.
    • Compiling an on-line good practice guide providing university based examples as well as relevant examples from other employers, to be used by line managers and other interested staff as a resource on the implementation details of work-life balance policies and practices.

    Intended outcomes

    It is intended that the above actions will lead to the following outcomes:

    • Clearer information on university work-life balance policies and practices that is easily accessible by all staff.
    • Improved understanding of work-life balance issues and a better response to staff needs within Schools and Directorates.
    • New policies expressly supporting work-life balance.
    • The adoption of a more participative management style leading to greater staff involvement in the development of practices leading to improved work flexibility and efficiency.
    • An embedded culture of work-life balance for all throughout the institution.

    Staff involved in carrying out the Work-Life Balance Action Plan

    The delivery of the action plan will be overseen by the Director of Human Resources. Other staff to be involved:

    A timetable of activities (Word doc, 127 KB) is available.

    Simonetta Manfredi

  • Get involved: join us

    Would you like to become a friend of the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice? We are grateful to our Centre friends for their support, which covers a vast range of activities.

    How you can help

    • Speak at one of our conferences or share your expertise at events
    • Sponsor an event or research project
    • Provide access to an organisation for research purposes
    • Provide prizes for best students’ dissertations on equality issues
    • Mentor our students
    • Sponsor a PhD student

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    Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice
    Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane
    OX3 0BP
    Tel: +44 (0)1865 488108

    Research Fellow 

    Dr Kate Clayton-Hathway
    Email: kclayton-hathway@brookes.ac.uk 


    Dr Anne Laure Humbert 
    Email: a.humbert@brookes.ac.uk

    Founding Director

    Professor Simonetta Manfredi
    Email: smanfredi@brookes.ac.uk

    Research Administrator 

    Mieke Tyrrell
    Email: mtyrrell@brookes.ac.uk