Pressure building for more flexible workplaces

Jan 07 2005 by Nic Paton Print This Article

UK workers are unhappy with the hours they work, and want their employers to do more to help them work more flexibly, according to a report from the Work Foundation.

The report, Changing Demographics , found that, contrary to expectation, those working in small companies were more likely to say they could work flexibly than those working in mid-size firms.

This is despite smaller firms being less likely to have a human resources function.

But while small firms might be good at informal flexibility, a person’s access to flexibility depended far more on their relationship with their manager than on a policy setting out clear rules, meaning there could be scope for unfairness. Workers did not just want to work fewer hours, they wanted greater flexibility, stressed the report.

The growing number of dual income households – where someone still had to care for children - and the need to work until later in life to fund retirement were key motivators in this trend, it argued.

More than two-thirds of those polled believed career structures needed to allow for time out without damage to career prospects, and that organisations needed to change their long hours’ culture. But this did not mean people wanted to be idle. The majority did not see “not working” as ideal at most periods of their lives and careers.

Most, however, did support the idea of being able to work on a flexible basis and wanted the choice of full or part time depending on their situations. Significant gender differences came through, too. Men and women’s expectations of how they would like to work or “should” work when they had young children were significantly different.

While both sexes agreed that not working was not ideal, men preferred full-time work and women part-time. Surprisingly, too, men were far more likely to see flexible part-time working as ideal when they had eldercare responsibilities than when they had young children.

Report co-author Alexandra Jones said: “Our survey respondents have demonstrated that they are looking to their employers and the Government to provide a working climate that enables them to make changes without impacting on their career success or their earnings potential.

“With the labour market becoming more female, older and more diverse, these are growing demands that the Government is already starting to respond to - and that all employers need to sit up and listen to. The UK’s demographics are already changing: the workplace cannot afford not to,” she added.