Employers resist employee-friendly initiatives

2002

New research from the Future of Work Programme paints a depressing picture of the attitude of British employers to work-life balance and employee consultation issues, with most employers still reluctant to adopt family-friendly and employee-friendly policies.

The survey of managers across 2,000 public- and private-sector organisations reveals that most organisations are doing no more than the legal minimum required to meet the family needs of their women employees, and remain reluctant to offer most of their staff innovative non-financial benefits - only three per cent of establishments provide any day care programme for the children of their employees and only eight per cent offer any financial assistance for this.

Moreover few employers have plans to make improvements in provision over the next year. Just five per cent plan to enhance maternity pay beyond the State minimum level, two per cent intended to contribute to the costs of childcare, four per cent were planning to introduce new parental leave schemes and four per cent again were introducing or extending term-time working arrangements for parents.

Most organisations also do a poor job of communicating with their workforces. Only 26 per cent of managers regularly consulted employee representatives, and only 52 per cent used an employee suggestion scheme.

However, 74 per cent of large establishments have considered or are considering how to reduce stress at work, which is perhaps a response to the long-hours culture.

Working hours legislation is also treated seriously and 65 per cent of all establishments monitor hours. 18 per cent of establishments had asked staff to opt out of the 48-hour week imposed by the Working Time Directive, and this rose to 40 per cent of the largest establishments (those with over 500 employees).

Despite this erratic progress on family-friendly employment conditions, in some other respects, employers and their managers seemed very aware of the value of developing a stable and high-quality work force rather than relying more substantially on outsourcing, temporary or casual staff. Contrary to some popular belief, downsizing and casual employment are not prominent among modern employment practices.

British organisations may also be quite slow to adopt fully the new ways of working which the widespread availability of new Information Technology makes possible, another field covered by the survey.

While the great majority of establishments have introduced information technology at work, many still have a long way to go before they use the new systems to improve all aspects of their performance. For example, 61 per cent of manufacturing establishments did not use computers for stocktaking and as many as 68 per cent of managers had yet to use the Internet to recruit employees.

The findings in the new survey should provide sober reading for the government and the corporate community. They reveal – from a management perspective - relatively discontented and stressful workplaces, where managers still fail to give a high enough priority to improving the family-friendly and employee-friendly practices which would develop motivation and encourage job retention.

A full copy of the report and survey is available in advance from: http://www.esrc.ac.uk/erd/workplace.pdf or by email from [email protected] or 01793 413122