· Features

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

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 of months spent losing weight, Lifestyle Breaks afford Tesco employees the security of knowing their job will be waiting for them when they return.

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Last summer, the supermarket giant wanted to beef up its benefits offerings and, in reaction to employee demand, came up with short-term career 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 if it is at manager level, but they do not have to reveal why they are taking time out.

They can take up to 12 weeks off, and when they return they go back to the same job, including hours, pay, and location. They are also entitled to the same benefits as they had before. The time away is unpaid, however, unless they use part of their holiday entitlement.

Who benefits?

All 270,000 employees can apply for the benefit. Individuals fill out a form, which is then submitted to their line manager. Eligibility is based on length of service (one year minimum) and their performance record in the previous year.

Remaining staff on internal training programmes benefit too, as they get the chance to flex their management muscles for the first time, plugging the gaps in any management positions that become temporarily available. More than 100 have taken up the 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 from plastic 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, especially graduates, because of it. The fact Tesco is so outwardly keen to help its staff enjoy a work-life balance helps its employer branding too.

The HR view

Paul Abbott is attendance & flexibility manager. He says the reason the company offers the new benefit is down to the employees. When asked how Tesco could improve their work-life balance, many, particularly long-serving employees, said they would love two months off work.

"The more 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, many employees are candid.

"In some instances they have used the time to go through a complete life change, like one employee who took several weeks off and hired a personal trainer to get fit," says Abbott. He says the business case is clear.

"It helps us retain skills and experience. And it's particularly useful to retain graduates who want to take time out to travel. It also engenders emotional loyalty.

"More and more people are striving for a better work/life balance, and we absolutely want to establish a flexible working culture here. People want more out of their lives and their careers, and we want to give it to them."

The employees' view

Ania Wenseth, home and health line manager, has worked for Tesco since 1995, and has always wanted to go away for longer than the usual two week holiday. 

"Before Tesco offered Lifestyle Breaks I could only have done this by taking a career break, which I did not want to do, as my job wouldn't be secure at the end of it," says Wenseth. But now she has enrolled in the Lifestyle Break scheme, and is immersed in plans for an eight-week trip with her husband Fraser - also a Tesco employee.

They are venturing to North Africa next year on a driving, trekking and safari trip that will take in the Sahara Desert.

"It's a fabulous opportunity, you can do anything you want to and not worry about job security at the end of it," says Wenseth.

"It's a good goal to work towards and, to help us save, we can earn extra money now by doing overtime, so it's win-win." But does it really make staff feel more loyal, as Tesco hopes?

"Certainly," says Wenseth. "It's great Tesco is looking at the bigger picture. I will continue to stay with the firm for a long, long time now. Why would I want to leave?"