Published: 01/12/2005 Volume 115 No. 5984 Page 26

An employee benefits scheme is helping one trust retain staff and reap awards.

Stuart Shepherd reports

A programme to improve employees' work-life balance could win 5 Boroughs Partnership trust an innovation prize at next week's Working Families Employer of the Year awards.

The trust is shortlisted for its In the Pink pack, that brings together an expanded range of employee benefits as part of its work around Improving Working Lives.

Available either as a hard-bound A4 file - in pink as the name suggests - or through the trust's intranet, the document provides a wide range of information on employment and social benefits available to all staff.

'You can't miss the folder, ' says head of workforce capacity and development Gail Nicholas. 'It is the one that leaps out at you from the shelf.' Gail has overseen the development of the document since its inception and says the pack, launched earlier this year, represents the results of extensive work to improve employee benefits.

'In 2001 the organisation, from which 5 Boroughs was established just a year later, had a staff satisfaction score of 0.7 per cent in relation to its childcare support, ' says Gail.

'Last year that figure stood at 57 per cent, which represents a huge jump, ' she says.

The introduction of play schemes, virtual childcare vouchers and advice on maternity and paternity leave accounts for much of this dramatic reversal of fortune.

The work-life balance benefits are not directed exclusively at staff with caring responsibilities. The nine sections in the pack provide detailed information and links to features as diverse as flexible retirement schemes, access to acupuncture through occupational health and discounts for local theme parks, gyms and designer outlets.

Uptake of the money-saving deals has been particularly encouraging, says Gail.

'The staff love the feel-good factor the benefits give them, ' she says. 'In fact they are so enthusiastic about the scheme they come to me with ideas for shops and leisure and fitness centres they want to see included in it. Add to that the approaches I have been getting from NHS Discounts and other savings schemes looking to be brought into the benefits package and you can appreciate just how phenomenal the response is.' And the staff are not the only ones to have shown an interest. Warrington primary care trust has also bought into the package under a service-level agreement with the trust.

Staff retention has improved at both 5 Boroughs and Warrington PCT, and Gail says that at induction training she hears from many new recruits that they are attracted to the organisation because of its reputation for having an 'amenable and supportive culture'.

In the Pink has a shelf life of three years and will be due for an overhaul in 2008. In the meantime, communications champions alert colleagues to regular updates in the form of inserts or website amendments.

And the trust is hoping that it can repeat its victory at awards organised by campaigning charity Working Family, where it won the inaugural Men at Work award last year.

'We would like to think that this being shortlisted shows us demonstrating consistency and building on earlier good practice, ' says Gail.

University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire trust is also among the finalists in the Family Friendly category.