Cookies and Privacy  UNISONScotland www
This is our archive website that is no longer being updated.
For the new website please go to
Click here
Home News About us Join Us Contacts Help Resources Learning Links UNISON UK


About the P&I Team Briefings Home | Responses | PFI Index | Policy Guide
16. Flexible Working Briefing




16. Flexible Working Briefing


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.


Flexible Working options includes:

  • Job-sharing
  • Part-time working (over 5 days per week, or fewer, on a regular or variable basis)
  • Flexitime
  • Shiftworking
  • 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:

  • Staggered Working Hours:

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 or temporary.

  • Annual Hours:

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.

  • Personalised Annual Leave:

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 more income.

  • Career Breaks:

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 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 in place.

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 workforce ages.
  • 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 person.
  • 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 lives.


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. For example,

  • How does the employer advertise the availability of their policies?
  • What is the employer's current attitude to the policies?
  • Are there operational difficulties with any or all of the policies?
  • 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 2001.
Dept of Education and Employment:


Scottish Executive Equalities Unit:


DTI Guides on Flexible Working:



Top of page

Further Information

Equal Opportunities Review(EOR) No. 96, March/April 2001.
Dept of Education and Employment:


Scottish Executive Equalities Unit:


DTI Guides on Flexible Working:



Contacts list:

Dave Watson -

@ The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Glasgow G26RX
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141-307 2572