Empowerment has been a noticeable result across the DP as a whole: beneficiaries have been empowered to seek employment and self-employment, others have gained the confidence to request flexible working; and others have found ways of dealing with stress in their workplace.
The Balancing Act was established by two West Midlands-based business advisers to provide start-up support for women whose time constraints prevented from accessing mainstream business support. By going out and meeting women in places where they felt comfortable about discussing their ideas, resources, potential and constraints prior to business planning, the project more than doubled forecasted numbers within a matter of months (over 40 to date). Working together and with other partners, they provided personal as well as business support, and have shown that women with time constraints are interested in becoming economically active. They have empowered women through their economic activity, generating a positive effect in the community. Balancing Act also developed a transnational web site for female entrepreneurs.
Additionally, 41 women who were already self-employed have diversified into new sectors and re-focused their businesses to redress their work life balance; this demonstrates that there are a lot of women-owned businesses who need business support to take them to the next level.
Adjust the Balance worked with partnerships from Spain, RESSORT, Italy Store and Silver Heads Club, Slovakia to create 'Equilibrium. Through this, Birmingham City Council Commissioned Birmingham University to compile a report, Connecting Policy with Practice. This report, presented directly to EU policy makers at a West Midlands in Europe conference, makes eight key recommendations:
- Promote good quality business advice, and recognise that support to companies is a vital component of regional, national and EU initiatives.
- Adopt wholeheartedly the notion of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and acknowledge that this is a major cultural challenge requiring awareness-raising initiatives.
- Ask DG Employment in the European Commission to publish an agreed glossary of all labour market and social policy terms in relevant EU languages, which should be updated on a regular basis.
- Ensure that high-quality business advice is available to companies, along with ongoing specialist IT support.
- Women need tailored initiatives, both while training and in employment, that recognise the realities of childcare and caring responsibilities.
- Policy makers must not ‘write off’ the potential of older workers.
- The experience of both the Equilibrium DP and the other EQUAL DPs in this theme shows that work/life balance and workplace adaptability issues should be included within all national ESF programmes.
As a Development Partnership (DP), Adjust the Balance set out to promote a broader definition of work/life balance (WLB) to establish it as an everyday aspect of running any organisation, and one that can bring rewards to people, business and the community. The DP positioned WLB within the social pillar of corporate social responsibility (CSR), a concept which, like work/life balance, has recently been accepted by business and social enterprises. This innovation has helped to broaden the perspective of WLB to incorporate equal opportunities and diversity.
The current government aims to achieve full employment; equipping our workforce with 'world-class skills' means that WLB cannot be ignored either by policy makers or by employers. Ensuring that people are not only able (skilled), but ready (there) and willing (motivated) to contribute to the economy, requires that workplaces are adaptable enough to support people to reach their full potential. Promoting workplace adaptability is also about changing attitudes and changing culture, both in workplaces and in society at large. This takes time. Adjust the Balance has been successful in creating a great number of Champions who will carry the principles forward in whatever work they go on to do, so the story does not stop here.
Some of the projects were truly innovative. For example, the Active Learning Companies project in Warwickshire found a way of encouraging fitness and wellbeing at work while engaging male learners.
Benefits to participating companies included:
- a personal trainer and a local learning development officer for free
- physical and learning fitness audits/assessments of the organisation and its employees.
- key individuals within the company identified as Active Learning Representatives (ALRs) as
positive role models for others
- regular motivation checks, and advice and guidance on suitable progression activities; incentive schemes that were designed to meet the needs of each individual or group of employees increased participation
- short taster opportunities to suit the needs of the employees
- links with local sports organisations and colleges.
A blended learning programme - LEARNING WELL - was developed to raise awareness of the importance of adopting a healthy lifestyle. The programme provided knowledge about making changes in order to live an active and healthy life. The four modules (Eat Well, Move Well, Be Well, Do Well) were both paper-based and on an interactive CD-ROM.
All companies were able to join the Active Learning Company network to receive regular feedback, news and information via the project web site: www.learningwell.org.uk.