WHAT IS IT?
Flexible working arrangements are designed to
offer employees new ways to balance work with other dimensions
in their life. With demand for goods and services around-the-clock,
increasing the traditional 9 to 5 day no longer necessarily
meets the needs of the individual and today's society. Initially
introduced to benefit working women to accommodate domestic
caring responsibilities, later campaigns are stressing that
a work-life balance is very much to the benefit of all staff.
WHAT CONSTITUTES FLEXIBLE WORKING?
Flexible Working options includes:
- Part-time working (over 5 days per week, or fewer, on
a regular or variable basis)
- Homeworking (on an occasional basis)
Most employees will be aware of these options.
However, there are other and more flexible options, which are
starting to receive more attention. They are called individual
working patterns and include:
This scheme allows staff to determine their
work pattern on a planned weekly basis. Hours can be staggered
throughout the week or on just one or two days, within specified
arrival or departure times. The arrangement can be permanent
An annual hours scheme permits working hours
to be modified throughout the year, with fewer hours worked
at certain times and more at others to suit individual circumstances.
With personalised annual leave, staff may "buy"
up to 10 days annual leave in return for a lower salary or
reduce their leave entitlement by up to 5 days in return for
Staff with a minimum of two years service can
take an unpaid break in their careers, up to a maximum of
two years for further education, travel or family leave.
THE CASE FOR FLEXIBLE WORKING:
The case for more flexible working options has
become more compelling in recent years. Recent research commissioned
by the Department for Education and Employment to assess the
state of the work-life balance throughout the country confirms
that there is overwhelming support for such schemes to be put
Workforce demographics also demonstrate why such
change is essential:
- In the next 10 years, there will be 2.7 million more workers
over 35 and 1.2 million fewer employees under 35 as the
- In the next 10 years the workforce will increase by 1.5
million - of which 85% will be women.
- 69% of women aged between 16 and 59 now work.
- 78% of women with school-age children (aged between 6
and 13) work outside the home.
- In 1996, one adult in 8 in Britain was looking after,
or providing some regular service, for a sick or elderly
- It is estimated that 2.8 million men are carers.
- 10% of lone parents are men.
- Unemployment in the UK, currently at 1.7 million, is at
its lowest level for 20 years.
Statistics like these and employee expectations
will clearly create new challenges for employers in the 21st
century. If organisations wish to be more successful, it is
essential that they take account of their employees' quality
of working life and establish policies that enable staff to
achieve a better balance between work and the rest of their
WHAT BRANCHES CAN DO:
UNISON needs to start being more pro-active in
this area. In the first instance, branches need to look at existing
policies and establish if there is greater room for improvement.
- How does the employer advertise the availability of their
- What is the employer's current attitude to the policies?
- Are there operational difficulties with any or all of
- Where can improvements be made?
- How would the employer react to expanding the existing
schemes to take account of some of the new schemes highlighted
in this briefing?
The business case has already been established.
Both major private and public sector employers such as King's
College Hospital, Portsmouth City Council, Marks and Spencer
and the National Magazine Company are discovering the enormous
benefits they have gained by actively promoting and establishing
these schemes. Many of the employers we deal with would do well
to follow their lead.
Equal Opportunities Review(EOR) No. 96, March/April
Dept of Education and Employment:
Scottish Executive Equalities Unit:
DTI Guides on Flexible Working: