Revolution in working patterns as UK gets flexible


The past seven years has seen major changes in working patterns in Britain, with a dramatic increase in flexible and part-time working heralding a transformation in the way that employees balance work and family responsibilities.

An official survey of more than 3,000 UK employers with more than 10 staff has found that the proportion of workplaces where some staff – but not senior managers – work from home has risen from 16 per cent in 1998 to 28 per cent in 2004.

The proportion of firms where staff work during term time only has doubled to 28 per cent, while flexi-time (26 per cent, up from 19 per cent) and job-sharing (41 per cent, up from 31 per cent) have also seen marked rises.

In all, some 83 per cent of workplaces now have part-time employees, up from 79 per cent in 1998, an increase which is largely due to more women with children entering the workforce.

Employment Minister Gerry Sutcliffe said that the findings highlighted the fact that people have more choice and control over their working lives.

"Government policy has lead to significant changes in the way people work in Britain, particularly the availability of flexible working arrangements," he said.

Hoverer the survey suggests that many managers are still far from convinced that the flexible working revolution is a good idea. Two-thirds (65 per cent) still believe that it is up to the individual to balance their work and family responsibilities, although this marked a decrease on the 84 per cent who felt the same way in 1998.

The 2004 Workplace Employment Relations Survey also found that while job satisfaction with influence and pay has remained unchanged since 1998, there has been an increase in the percentage of employees satisfied with the sense of achievement they get from work (up from 64 per cent in 1998 to 70 per cent in 2004).

Some hints as to the cultural changes that might account for this include the fact that the past seven years has seen an increase in off-the-job training, which is now seen in 84 per cent of workplaces (compared with 73 per cent in 1998), while more workplaces now involve non-managerial staff in problem solving or discussions about performance (21 per cent in 2004 compared with 16 per cent in 1998).

Meanwhile, management's perception of the employment relations climate has improved since 1998, although employees' views changed little over the period.

Managers in almost a third (30 per cent) of workplaces reported that relations had 'improved a lot'. The same proportion reported that they had 'improved a little', and they deteriorated in only four per cent of continuing workplaces since 1998.

Employees were more negative about relations than their employers: they had poorer perceptions of relations than management in half of all cases in 2004, whereas the opposite was true in only 13 per cent of cases.

But employees are also less likely to be union members than they were in 1998, particularly in smaller firms, where only 18 per cent of employers with 10-24 employees recognised unions in 2004.

"We have long argued that flexible working opportunities benefit everyone: employers, employees and their families, and today's findings show that these arguments have been embraced in the modern workplace," Gerry Sutcliffe said.

"Although we still have work to do in some areas, today's findings show that the modern workplace is moving in the right direction."