· 2 min read · Features

Benefits case: Study Tesco - A big break for work-life balance

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Tesco's Lifestyle Breaks give employees the chance to spend time with their children, renovate their house, go travelling, have plastic surgery - whatever takes their fancy.

HOW IT WORKS

Whether it is 12 weeks to recover from plastic surgery, or a couple ofmonths spent losing weight, Lifestyle Breaks afford Tesco employees thesecurity of knowing their job will be waiting for them when they return.Last summer, the supermarket giant wanted to beef up its benefitsofferings and, in reaction to employee demand, came up with short-termcareer breaks. The programme sits alongside three other new schemes:foster care support; fertility treatment support; and study leave.Employees must give a minimum of four weeks' notice, sometimes longer ifit is at manager level, but they do not have to reveal why they aretaking time out. They can take up to 12 weeks off, and when they returnthey go back to the same job, including hours, pay, and location. Theyare also entitled to the same benefits as they had before. The time awayis unpaid, however, unless they use part of their holidayentitlement.

WHO BENEFITS

All 270,000 employees can apply for the benefit. Individuals fill out aform, which is then submitted to their line manager. Eligibility isbased on length of service (one year minimum) and their performancerecord in the previous year. Remaining staff on internal trainingprogrammes benefit too, as they get the chance to flex their managementmuscles for the first time, plugging the gaps in any managementpositions that become temporarily available. More than 100 have taken upthe benefit so far.

WHAT IT DELIVERS

Staff obviously benefit from being offered the time away from work.Employees in the past have used the time to go travelling, renovatetheir house, spend time with their children, as well as recovering fromplastic surgery and even losing weight. This helps staff achieve abetter work-life balance and creates increased loyalty towards the firm.The company says it is more likely to retain talent, especiallygraduates, because of it. The fact Tesco is so outwardly keen to helpits staff enjoy a work-life balance helps its employer branding too.

THE HR VIEW

Paul Abbott is attendance & flexibility manager. He says the reason thecompany offers the new benefit is down to the employees. When asked howTesco could improve their work-life balance, many, particularlylong-serving employees, said they would love two months off work. "Themore we spoke to people the more we realised how much demand there was,"he says. Although individuals do not have to justify the time off, manyemployees are candid. "In some instances they have used the time to gothrough a complete life change, like one employee who took several weeksoff and hired a personal trainer to get fit," says Abbott. He says thebusiness case is clear. "It helps us retain skills and experience. Andit's particularly useful to retain graduates who want to take time outto travel. It also engenders emotional loyalty. More and more people arestriving for a better work -life balance, and we absolutely want toestablish a flexible working culture here. People want more out of theirlives and their careers, and we want to give it to them."

THE EMPLOYEE'S VIEW

Ania Wenseth, home and health line manager, has worked for Tesco since1995, and has always wanted to go away for longer than the usual twoweek holiday. "Before Tesco offered Lifestyle Breaks I could only havedone this by taking a career break, which I did not want to do, as myjob wouldn't be secure at the end of it," says Wenseth. But now she hasenrolled in the Lifestyle Break scheme, and is immersed in plans for aneight-week trip with her husband Fraser - also a Tesco employee. Theyare venturing to North Africa next year on a driving, trekking andsafari trip that will take in the Sahara Desert. "It's a fabulousopportunity, you can do anything you want to and not worry about jobsecurity at the end of it," says Wenseth. "It's a good goal to worktowards and, to help us save, we can earn extra money now by doingovertime, so it's win-win." But does it really make staff feel moreloyal, as Tesco hopes? "Certainly," says Wenseth. "It's great Tesco islooking at the bigger picture. I will continue to stay with the firm fora long, long time now. Why would I want to leave?"