Work-life balance improving in housing sector, our survey says…

Housing organisations now offer their employees a better work-life balance than ever before, according to a national survey published by EMA this week.

Our 2018 Total Rewards Survey is probably the most comprehensive source of information about pay and benefits in the sector, with more than 70 providers across England, Scotland and Wales taking part. The research covers benefits such as annual leave, bonus schemes, healthcare packages and leave entitlement, as well as pay for different employee groups.

Here’s a quick round-up of the headlines from this year’s research…

Flexible working on the rise

Many housing organisations now offer more flexibility in work patterns. The number of providers offering working weeks of less than 35 hours has increased in all job categories since 2017, with a few extra notable changes:
• Contractual home working has risen from 12.2 per cent to 15.8 per cent of organisations surveyed
• Job shares are now adopted in 77.2 per cent of organisations (up from 70 per cent last year)
• Compressed hours – for example, a nine-day fortnight – are now accepted by 68.4 per cent of providers (up from 60 per cent)

A recent Investors in People report states that just under one-third of UK employees would prefer a more flexible work environment to a pay rise. Flexible working also boosts employee morale and is often the top priority for candidates seeking new jobs. That’s potentially great news for the housing profession.

Annual leave for sale

Average annual leave entitlement is broadly the same as last year and we expect this trend to continue, maintaining staff morale. One interesting change is the rising popularity of ‘buying’ annual leave; 49 per cent of participating organisations now offer individuals the option to buy leave of (on average) one extra week a year.

Holiday office closures are also more commonplace, with 51% of respondents indicating a practice of partial or full closure over the Christmas and New Year period. That means typically between 0.5 days and four days of additional discretionary leave for employees in participating organisations.

In recent years, we’ve seen a noticeable increase in housing providers offering additional paid leave for employees undertaking voluntary work. In 2016, 30 per cent of respondents supported this practice; two years on, the figure has risen to 50 per cent

Time off in lieu: an office perk?

Our latest survey found that 96 per cent of respondents offer TOIL to office-based employees – a jump of 10 per cent over the past year. Whilst that’s consistent with the trend towards greater work-life balance, the percentage of employers offering lieu time to other employee groups has gone down. For example, in 2017 64.7 per cent of organisations supported time off in lieu for directors, but this year, the figure dropped to 49 per cent.
Pay and bonuses on the rise

More than a tenth of survey respondents made a pay award exceeding 2.5 per cent in 2018 – a five-fold increase over the previous year. The number of providers freezing pay levels also dropped from 5.6 to 3.6 per cent. Around half the organisations surveyed adopted increases between 1.5 and 2 per cent.

Pay strategies are moving towards market rates; 82 per cent of organisations now align their salaries in this way. Typically housing sector levels are the benchmark, but some providers also base their decisions on commercial salaries.

Bonus and performance-related pay (PRP) schemes have become more popular. Directors’ bonuses are up 10.6 per cent, and senior managers have risen by six per cent. Payments for other employee groups are either linked to salary levels, or performance-based (say, on unit sales) with a flat rate payment. Development bonus payments stand out in particular – at up to 30 per cent (or more) of base pay.

Healthcare packages in good shape

Health-related benefits for employees are more abundant this year. This includes a rise in healthcare cover for all employee groups, and small increases in other benefits.

More than half of the organisations surveyed provide discounts for health or sports club membership, and 69 per cent offer vaccinations. There has also been an upsurge in Employee Assistance Programmes; 91 per cent of respondents now offer this. Other typical benefits include provision of free fruit at work, access to occupational health support, provision of respiratory and sight tests and on-site gym provision.

Final thoughts

Thanks to everyone who took part in this year’s survey. It’s the fourth time we’ve coordinated the research and these insights are helping to build a year-on-year picture of how HR practice is evolving within housing organisations.

In particular, the strides towards flexible working in housing are a welcome development. This shows just how much housing organisations take employee work-life balance seriously – and is hopefully a sign of the sector leading the way in building highly engaged and motivated teams.

Want the full picture?

If you have any questions about the results or wish to discuss, please contact Anne Elliott or Lorna Lee on 01926 887272 or email: or