Series on Work-Life Balance: Lothian and Borders Police

There has been a concentrated effort on the development of Work-Life Balance in the LBP or Lothian and Borders Police that employs approximately 2,600 police officers and 1,100 support staff. Its headquarters are in the centre of Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city. Its mission, central to policy development and operational goals, is “to prevent crime, keep the peace, protect and reassure the community, uphold the law firmly and fairly, and pursue and identify those who break the law.”

Donald Ramsay, the personnel services manager at LBP, explains that development of work-life balance programs to make workplace policies more user-friendly is now an important area of people management for a number of reasons. First, greater work is now requested from serving officers and support staff. Flexibility is also expected by new applicants, including women and minority groups, whom LBP is targeting in their recruitment drives. Secondly, the combined effects of more employment legislation and the high media profile of discrimination cases make it more important to avoid potential discrimination. Lastly, it is recognized that work-life balance policies should be applied consistently and that management style is highly significant in ensuring consistency.

Louise Parker joined LBP in 1997 as a full-time clerical assistant. After three years she began to think seriously about travelling. In March 2000, she requested a year off to travel; by June 2000 she was flying to Australia to explore Southeast Asia on her own. In taking what Mariana Forsyth, HR advisor, calls “the purest form of work-life balance” while someone else filled her job on a fixed-term contract, Parker returned to LBP 54 weeks later a completely different person. Her experience played a large part in changing her perspectives and developing her skills so she can bring added qualities to work. Learning about different cultures, challenging stereotypes, improving communication skills and developing self-confidence are all cited by Parker as part of her personal learning journey. While on her travels, Parker felt comfort knowing that there was a job to return to. During her career break, though, she received no employee benefits; in effect, a career break suspends an employment contract until resumption of the job.

Nearly a year after her return, Parker admits to still feeling that she is settling back into work, a process she has found “really difficult…I felt a lot of pressure on myself when I first came back as I had to relearn policies and basically how things work.” At the same time, however, she says she is absolutely committed to her job and strongly feels that she should give something back. Further, now promoted to a divisional personnel officer and studying part-time for a postgraduate diploma, she reports on having “a different and better perspective on how to deal with people.” Several colleagues and Ramsay testify to the positive change in Parker due to her wider life experience. Ramsay firmly believes that Parker is a success story that has benefited the Department and Force.

With regard to the more general organizational effects of work-life balance, Ramsay asserts that there is now “a much greater awareness of work-life balance throughout the force; staff realize we will try to accommodate flexible working.”