Chapter 7 - Workplace Perspectives
As previously indicated (see 1.7 above), given the resources available to this study, it was not feasible to undertake either a widescale survey or in-depth discussions with a fully representative cross-section of organisations in the commercial and non-commercial sectors. However, by analysing detailed research findings from other relevant studies, in addition to holding in-depth discussions with key informants from a range of sectoral interests, it is possible to establish a good picture of the key issues and challenges, from the workplace perspective of the past present and future development of family friendly/flexible working arrangements.
These interviews were held with key informants from public sector organisations, senior HR managers from a selected range of private sector organisations including a major banking firm, an IT company, a major food retail store, and information from the small to medium enterprise (SME) sector. The views of key informants from central bodies, including IBEC, ISME and ICTU, were also obtained. In order to bring together and discuss the various perspectives obtained, the findings are considered thematically, drawing on the categories of flexible working arrangements identified in Chapter Two.
In relation to jobsharing, it is important to recognise that there is a significantly higher take up and availability of such arrangements in the public service, compared to the commercial sector. For example, Fynes et al (1996a) estimate that only 5% of private sector companies offer job-sharing, with an estimated 5,300 employees job-sharing in this sector. The same survey estimated that there were 8,000 people job-sharing in the public service. Interestingly this survey also revealed that private sector employers were more likely than public sector employers to see no advantages in job-sharing, which they concluded was likely to be a reflection of the longer and greater experience within the public sector of job-sharing. Available research evidence on job-sharing arrangements in the Irish public service indicates that, although it is still a minority working arrangement overall there is considerable value placed on the availability of such an arrangement from the employees' point of view.
Within the public service, jobsharers are predominantly female, concentrated in the lower grades, generally aged 30-39 years and are usually at a particular phase in their working/family lives (primarily to care for young children). In the Civil Service, research data indicate a range of reasons staff opt to job share as outlined in Table 7.1:
(Source: Humphreys et al, 1999)
Women predominantly opt for job sharing in order to combine work and family responsibilities. In contrast, men are much more likely to jobshare to pursue other interests.
Similar findings emerge from research carried out in the UK in 1993 (see New Ways to Work (NWW) 1993a). This research was based on a survey of 100 people working flexibly at senior and managerial levels. Almost half of these respondents worked on a job sharing basis, thirty four per cent of whom were working part time. Ninety two percent of the managers surveyed were women, with seventy six percent citing childcare as the overwhelming reason for opting to avail of flexible working arrangements. In contrast, eighty per cent of the male managers surveyed cited better quality of life as the primary reason for opting for such arrangements.
In Ireland, the research carried out by Humphreys et al (1999) reveals a considerable level of negative attitudes of both men and women towards job-sharers. Common reasons for such negativity relate to continuity problems in work, lack of availability of job-sharing individuals, and a perception that job-sharers were 'less committed' to their jobs. The research also indicated that in many cases, jobsharing was viewed as incompatible with the duties of higher-grade jobs and work with a high policy, as distinct from operational content. "The Civil Service demands ever longer hours from its staff and availability of particular individuals is difficult to maintain in a job-sharing situation ... On a number of occasions, reference was made to the strong "cultural opposition" of managers to job-sharing except at lower grades. Perhaps not surprisingly in these circumstances, on promotion, jobsharers often have to revert to full time working." (Humphreys et al, 1999, p. 36).
In this context, a key concern is that jobsharing may reinforce, rather than assist in breaking down, occupational segregation in employment. At the same time, recent developments will potentially address this concern. There is recognition that the Gerster ruling will have significant implications for the career prospects of job-sharers and indeed the take-up of job-sharing in the public sector. Following the ruling in this case by the European Court of Justice, a Department of Finance Circular was issued confirming that for the purposes of reckonable service, credit should be given for job-sharing service on the same basis as full-time service. While the full implications of the Gerster decision remain to be seen, they are potentially significant in the light of the considerable emphasis placed on seniority as a promotion factor in the public service especially.
The survey carried out by Fynes et al (1996a) reveals a number of interesting findings in the context of jobsharing in the private sector. Firstly, the survey revealed that job-sharing can be seen to be a relatively new phenomenon. In 50% of the firms surveyed, job-sharing schemes had been introduced in the period 1991 to 1994. Over 68% of women surveyed had opted for job-sharing for family reasons, compared to 34.9% of men. In the majority of firms surveyed, job-sharing was not perceived by management to adversely affect terms and conditions of employment or access to training or promotion. This draws interesting comparisons with the public service, in which for example job-sharing is seen to undermine prospects for promotion (Humphreys et al, 1999) which may reflect the greater emphasis on seniority as a promotion factor in the public service.
In terms of likely future developments, the survey revealed that larger firms were much more interested than small firms in extending job-sharing arrangements in the future. Similar disadvantages associated with job-sharing to those identified in the public service were also raised in the private sector. For example, the most commonly cited disadvantages associated with job-sharing included lack of continuity, and a perception that jobsharing was 'not feasible' for the business concerned. Firms were asked whether they felt that the government could introduce any scheme or initiative that would encourage the individual firm to introduce or extend job-sharing arrangements, to which 27% of firms responded 'yes'. A range of suggestions were made in this regard, including the provision of financial support for training and changes in the tax and social welfare codes to favour part time workers.
In-depth interviews carried out during the research study also reveal a number of additional issues in relation to job-sharing. In contrast to the public service, it appears that job-sharing arrangements in the private sector tend to be more informally agreed as opposed to being formalised in policy. There was a general consensus that more informal arrangements, on a case by case basis, were preferable to having formalised policies. Generally, the granting of such requests are primarily made within the context of business requirements. For example, interviewees in the private sector stressed that the feasibility and desirability of job-sharing arrangements depended on the nature of the work being performed by the individual and how easily such positions lent themselves to the sharing of work. In the case of SME's, Fisher (2000) reveals that job-sharing was available in 23% of the organisations surveyed. Interestingly, the study highlighted that job-sharing was more prevalent in small enterprises than medium ones.
In contrast, there was a perception within the public service that it is very difficult for managers to exercise their prerogative, for example in refusing job-sharing requests given the nature of the particular post in question. This creates difficulties for example in finding job-sharing partners, with the result that job-sharers are often unmatched. On the positive side, in both sectors, there was recognition by many interviewees that the availability of job-sharing arrangements can assist in the retention of staff who would other wise leave. It was also suggested that in contrast to other schemes such as career breaks, job-sharing arrangements ensure that there is an ongoing retention of skills. Thus, the administrative and operational issues involved in managing job-sharing arrangements were perceived by some to be far outweighed by the benefits of retaining skills in the organisation on a part time basis with the possibility that job-sharing staff would eventually return to full time work.
Broadly speaking, flexitime schemes allow employees to vary their starting and finishing times of work, outside a compulsory core-time, provided an agreed volume of hours are worked over a given remuneration period (see Employment Equality Agency 1996). Flexitime schemes are amongst the longest established and most widely utilised forms of flexible, family friendly working arrangements, especially in the public service (see Humphreys, Fleming and O'Donnell 2000). In his SME study, Fisher (2000) found that 31% of firms had a flexitime scheme in operation: 16% of small firms and 49% of medium sized firms had flexitime arrangements in place. Within the Irish context, flexitime provides an opportunity for employees to balance caring responsibilities and offers a partial solution to the considerable commuting problems experienced by staff in the larger urban areas, such as Dublin.
As preferences for more individualised lifestyles emerged in the 1970s, flexibility of working time became a popular option for employees. Flexitime became popular in the UK in the 1970s as a means of attracting and retaining staff. The 1992 Personnel Today Survey found that only 19% of private sector firms had schemes, compared with 61% in the public service. It is also worth noting that while 2.5 million employees in the UK were working flexible working hours in 1993. The take up of flexitime is much more common among women than men. In its survey of flexible working practices in local government, NWW (1993a) found that flexitime is a normal part of employment practice. Out of the 249 local authorities surveyed, 85% had a formal flexitime policy.
By offering more flexible and varied working arrangements, the potential pool of labour is extended to include employees who cannot work full-time but still want regular employment. It is important to note that flexitime schemes appear to be far from universal throughout the Civil Service, never mind the wider public service, and, where they exist, are very often limited to non-management grades. During the interviews conducted for this study, flexitime was found to be a standard feature of working arrangements in several of the commercial organisations surveyed but, in some organisations flexitime was initiated by the employee and determined solely on a case by case basis by the employer, dependent upon the constraints of the job. Once more informal policies were favoured in the private sector and formal policies in the public service.
There is widespread consensus in the literature that flexible working arrangements, including flexitime systems can make 'good business sense.' Flexible working time can enable staff to reconcile, more effectively, work and non-work commitments (including caring responsibilities), which in turn can result in improved attendance and reduced staff turnover. Flexitime allows staff a greater degree of control over the pattern of their working day and provides a greater opportunity to balance work and caring commitments. Finally, from the employer's perspective, flexitime systems can provide a useful means of monitoring working time, e.g. in the context of the Working Time Act.
7.4 Part-time working
Part-time working is an increased feature of many advanced economies, which in turn reflects the increased participation by women in the labour market. In the context of family friendly policies, it has been argued that from an equal opportunities point of view, the primary advantage of part-time working is that it facilitates the combination of paid and unpaid work (Plantegna, 1995). At the same time, part-time working also presents disadvantages, for example in reinforcing the unequal distribution of unpaid work between men and women, since in most advanced economies, the majority of part-time workers are women. Additionally, other concerns regarding part-time working have been raised, including the comparatively weaker legal status and quality of work of many part-time positions (Plantegna, 1995).
In the public service, employment largely has been, and continues to be, restricted to full-time career length established posts. At the same time, there are exceptions to this norm within specific parts of the public service. In 1995, it was estimated that there were circa 15,000 part-time workers in the health services, local authorities and post-primary education sectors, and such arrangements take many forms. For example, seasonal and casual work has been a regular feature of employment in local authorities, many semi-state bodies for a considerable number of years. Part-time staff are also prevalent in the retained fire service, the vocational educational sector, and in the health sector (not only in nursing areas but also amongst catering, cleaning and other support staff). Additionally, the development of more flexible working arrangements in the permanent workforce has increasingly created opportunities for temporary employment, for example to provide cover for staff on career breaks and on term-time working. In terms of future development, amendments to the legislative framework governing Civil Service recruitment are currently being drafted, which are likely to cover, among other things, changes required to develop greater flexibility in the recruitment and employment of less than full-time staff.
Part-time working is more significant in the private sector than in the public service. In recognition of this growing trend, legislation was enacted in 1994 to afford part-time workers the same degree of protection as full-time workers, for example in relation to unfair dismissals (see Chapter Six). Even so, concerns have been expressed at trade union level regarding the exploitation and discrimination that are often associated with atypical working practices such as part-time working (see Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), 1996).
Our interview findings suggest that the introduction of part-time forms of work in the private sector is often driven by increased demand by potential employees for part-time work. Reductions in labour market supply within the economic climate make it less possible for employers to dictate the hours of work available. Ultimately, flexibility in hours of work or arrangements relating to part time work must support business requirements. For example, in one large organisation studied, it was stressed that customers increasingly expect, and demand, that outlets are open after normal working hours, and this demand obviously influences the level of part time working available. Thus, while many potential employees have a preference for working part time on a morning only basis, for example to reconcile both family and work responsibilities, the organisation may not be able to accommodate every request, for example, where they must ensure that adequate staffing levels are available to work after 5pm.
Finally, in relation to SME's, the findings of Fisher's recent study (2000) are of interest. This study indicates that part-time work is by far the most prevalent form of flexible working used in both the small and medium-sized enterprises which were surveyed. Half of the small organisations surveyed had part-time workers, while the percentage for medium sized enterprises was 49%.
7.5 More innovative forms of flexible working
In interviews carried out in the public service, there is recognition among many of the need for more flexible approaches to working arrangements. This recognition was based on an increasing awareness that there are many people who wish to work less than the standard working week. For example, in the case of staff nearing retirement, there are benefits to be gained from allowing individuals to adjust gradually, for example, to a four-day/three day week, so that the change following retirement will be less traumatic. In this context, proposals are currently being developed by the Department of Finance to encourage greater flexibility in the patterns of attendance acceptable within a jobsharing arrangement in the public service e.g. mornings only. At the same time, concerns were raised regarding the difficulties that more flexible forms of jobsharing can create in relation to filling the remaining part of a job, where it might not be practicable or efficient to recruit a new member of staff, for example for one day a week.
It was suggested by some that a more imaginative approach was required to overcome such difficulties. For example, not every post requires an individual to work a standard 35 hours per week, and in many cases, it is likely that the reorganisation of the work of a section or post could address issues created from the take-up of work-sharing arrangements. It was suggested that the biggest barrier to worksharing will be the traditional, and in many cases fixed, attitudes that prevail regarding the standard definition of the working week. It was suggested that many 'perceived problems' caused by take up of flexible working arrangements are not caused by the arrangements themselves, but rather by the rigidities of the work systems and practices on which they are imposed. In this context, it was suggested by some that there is a need to rethink traditional assumptions regarding the 'infallibility' of the 9 to 5 five-day working week. Ultimately, it was believed that future developments for example, in relation to worksharing, would have to become a reality, particularly in the context of the current demographic and economic climate.
Some organisations have opted for more informal versions of working arrangement. For example, in one company in the commercial semi-state sector, a form of 'annualised hours' was introduced. The scheme allows employees to opt for less than 100% of the normal working hours, subject to a maximum reduction of 50%. The staff member concerned agrees a monthly pattern with his/her manager a month in advance of commencing this system. For example, they may decide to work 3 weeks out of four, four days per week, half days etc. The remuneration equivalent of the individual's unworked hours might then be allocated to other staff in the section in return for undertaking extra duties. For example, a member of staff might be given a 30% bonus for undertaking the additional work created by the reduced hours of another employee. Alternatively, if it is not possible to do this, work might be re-arranged within the section concerned if it is feasible to do so. Once a pattern has been agreed, this represents the staff member's annual pattern of working, normally for a period of two years.
A recent report by New Ways to Work (1999) also outlines a more innovative form of less than full time working which they describe as Voluntary reduced time (V-time). V-time allows employees voluntarily to trade income for time off. For example an individual may be given the option of reducing their full time working hours, usually by between five and fifty per cent, for a specified period, with the right to return to full time working at the end of that period. The time can be taken off by reducing the working day or week, or by taking a block of time off during the year. Examples are cited of UK companies who have developed versions of this system, including Abbey National and the Civil Service. It has been suggested that the chief advantage of such a scheme is "flexibility and the chameleon ability to be 'all things to all people' - for example, a holiday opportunity, a ticket to study, a permanent childcare solution, a means of weathering a family crisis such as illness" (New Ways to Work, 1999, p.19).
7.6 Term-time working/parental leave
Term time working and parental leave can be usefully considered together since the provisions of both schemes are broadly similar. Parental leave has been described as an "important instrument in facilitating a combination of employment and family responsibilities" (Plantegna and Hansen, 1999, p.372). Arising from an EU Directive in June 1996, EU member countries were obliged to introduce legislation on parental leave that would enable parents to care full-time for children for a period of up to three months. In an overview of the range of approaches adopted by EU countries, Plantegna and Hansen (1999) conclude that Sweden and Austria are the most generous in their approach. Austria, for example, has legislated paid parental leave for up to two years that can also be taken on a part time basis. They point out that it is too early to assess the impact of parental leave in countries such as Ireland and the UK, who have been slower to legislate for such measures.
In addition to parental leave legislation, a number of countries have also introduced term-time working provisions. During the 1990s, such arrangements were made available through many parts of the British public service, as well as the private sector. Research in the UK indicates that, in response to the concerns of families in relation to caring for children during school holidays, a number of organisations, including the Department for Education and Employment, Boots, Dixons and Thistle Hotels have introduced term-time working.
In an Irish context, a pilot term-time working scheme was introduced in the Civil Service in 1998 in which four government departments allowed staff with primary caring responsibilities to take unpaid leave during the summer to coincide with school holidays. Up to the end of May 1999, a total of 352 applications had been received, of which 87% were from women. Overall, 76% of applications were granted. While the largest grade group represented was at Clerical Officer (CO) level, the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs (DSCFA) had the widest range of applicants in more senior grades up to Assistant Principal (AP). Reflecting its decentralised and regionalised organisational structure, the DSCFA also had two thirds of its applications from outside the Dublin area. It is anticipated that nine departments will participate in the term-time working scheme in the year 2000.
An examination of the information available to date on the scheme highlights a number of important issues. These may be summarised as follows:
- While all participating departments stated that the needs of the work in the area was paramount in the selection criteria which would be the responsibility of local management to decide, there was significant variation in how the selection process was operationalised. In one case, an overall numerical cap was used to limit vacancies arising in any particular area. In some Departments, seniority criteria were used but not in others.
- Although the Civil Service Commission was able to provide some assistance through the provision of names from a central Clerical Officer competition, most temporary recruitment was undertaken locally. Although few men applied for such vacancies, it is interesting to note that demand was exceptional in some areas. For example, in Limerick, there were 600 applications for 25-30 posts. Likewise, in addition to students, many posts proved attractive to women in the 40-50 years age group.
- While it is important to maintain a degree of managerial flexibility to ensure sensitivity to actual differences in service demands, there does appear to be some variation in the approval rates for applications overall between Departments/Offices. For example, in one department, 86% of applications were granted, while in another, the success rate for applications was 75%. Clearly as the scheme is developed, any consequential concerns about consistency of treatment would need to be addressed.
In addition to this initiative in the Civil Service, developments are also taking place in the wider public sector. For example, one large employer is currently considering proposals to introduce term-time working. Currently, staff may avail of special leave without pay for the summer months, but it is believed that a term time working scheme might be more beneficial for staff, for example, by enabling them to have their pay spread out over the entire year to address difficulties caused by working one block of unpaid leave.
Our interviews revealed little evidence of term time working arrangements in private sector organisations. Fisher's recent study of SME's (2000) also estimated that 4% of the organisations surveyed had term time working arrangements in place. In contrast, because of the legislative nature of parental leave arrangements, most companies had some experience of this arrangement. Thus, since employers are obliged to agree to requests for parental leave unless they can provide objective reasons for not doing so, the Act has already, and continues to have, implications in terms of the development of family friendly initiatives in the workplace.
Concerns were expressed by some private sector organisations regarding problems arising from arrangements availed of under the Act. For example, the Act provides for the granting of unpaid leave for each parent for a period of up to 14 weeks, for each child under the age of five years, in order to take care of the child. The employee may choose to take this leave in a range of ways ranging from a full 14 week break to options involving one days leave per week. This can create difficulties in terms of providing cover particularly, at peak working times. Secondly, the Act also provides for paid leave for urgent family reasons in cases of sickness or accident of a close relative that made the presence of the employee indispensable. One manager suggested that much greater clarification is required as to what constitutes the criteria by which such decisions would be made in the light of potential abuses by some employees of this provision. Additional concerns were recently raised by the Institute of Personnel Development (IPD) in which it was suggested that the Act may serve to reinforce existing gender segregation, since it is more likely that women who will avail of such leave, which is unpaid in Ireland, in contrast to other European countries (IPD News, 1998).
It is estimated that there are 61,000 people (4.4% of the workforce) teleworking in Ireland (see ECATT survey, EU Commission, DGXIII, 1999). An Amrach Consulting report (1999) estimates that 'one in ten workers will telecommute from their home some or all of the time in 2010,' although it is important to bear in mind that statistical estimates can alter because of definitional variations.
In its June 1999 Report, the National Advisory Council states that "there are still significant barriers to be overcome before Ireland can fully reap the benefits of teleworking. The greatest barriers are lack of awareness, relevant training and a fiscal and legal environment that supports teleworking as a method of work. Many in leadership positions (Government, education, business, trade unions, development agencies and community groups) do not appreciate the potential of teleworking skills and technologies and the advantages that can be derived from them" (p.6).
The Dublin Transportation Office (1999) estimate that 22% of employees thought that they could do their jobs from home and 57% of these would like to. Most teleworking projects are employee driven although a growing number of companies are realising the benefits both to themselves and their staff of this working method and devising policies to cater for it. At present, it is apparent that while there is considerable interest amongst managers themselves for telecommuting in particular, it was felt that other than individual informal, flexiplace agreements, the wider adoption of teleworking in the public service would require a substantial change in managerial and organisational culture. In particular, the strong cultural emphasis at present on visibility and hours of attendance, incorrectly focused managerial attention on time spent at work rather than its productivity and value added.
Source: ECATT survey (EU Commission, DGXIII, 1999), in Fisher (2000) p.60
Private sector organisations who use teleworking as a major part of their way of working admit that not many companies use teleworking, for various reasons including the reticence of older managers to use I.T developments in their companies and an unwillingness to change customary practices. However this is likely to change as a growing number of jobs lend themselves to teleworking. In addition, those companies who do not use technology will not succeed in the global environment where I.T. plays a very important role. Teleworking will also increase as the technology exists to have virtual call centres where work is contracted out to people who are given the equipment to carry out the job. Fisher (2000) estimates that of the 133 SMEs that responded to the questionnaire 28% had a teleworking scheme in operation. Twenty-nine percent of small organisations and 27% of medium organisations surveyed respectively utilised a teleworking scheme. In the public service, individual departments/offices are piloting teleworking at present, albeit on a very limited scale. In addition, in the commercial semi-state sector, the expanding capabilities of ICTs to transform working practices are being more actively pursued.
Discussions with private sector organisations indicated that five Ts need to be introduced for a successful teleworking scheme:
- Teleworking schemes are fundamentally based on trust and this is a key tenet in the whole area of remote working.
- Training and provision of the tools to enable people to conduct the job will ensure effective adaptation to remote working and will guarantee that both parties are agreed on what the job entails and the output required targets.
- Monitoring the effectiveness of working from home is easier when there is trust between both parties and the training and tools are provided which results in the achievement of the results expected (targets) within the agreed timescale.
In one organisation, a manager initiated a teleworking scheme on a pilot basis. When the costs of working from home as opposed to the office were shown to be lower and productivity higher, they introduced teleworking on a voluntary basis across the board. In the private sector organisations analysed teleworking was more widespread in technology based firms and was being tentatively examined as a possible new way of working in one banking organisation. Teleworking was not implemented in certain organisations because the majority of jobs in the organisations did not suit teleworking (e.g. production line jobs, receptionists, dealers, and retailers) and flexibility was constrained by the hours of working and the job type (needing to be on site). In one public sector organisation concerns were also raised about the management and administration of teleworking schemes.
However, as the National Advisory Council indicates there needs to be concerted action across a wide front for the full potential of teleworking to be realised. The success of such action will also be predicated at least in part on the adoption of effective codes of practice to address some of the frequently cited concerns about the potentially negative aspects of teleworking. These can include the disintegration of collective forms of work organisation, increasing precariousness of employment, the exploitation of vulnerable groups of workers, a reversal of progress towards equal opportunities, erosion of vocational training structures, social isolation and the facilitation and tacit encouragement of poor employment and management practices (see ICTU 1996).
In the private sector, some organisations are actively using teleworking at an increasing rate for the following reasons:
- increased productivity - estimates suggest that without distractions common to most offices, workers manage to increase their productivity by between 10% and 40%;
- the costs of teleworking are lower, e.g. commuting time and costs are abolished;
- high rental charges for offices in the city are reduced;
- location of potential employees becomes unimportant;
- companies can increase employment without having to increase office space or incurring relocation costs, and can plan accurately the space they require;
- employees are able to strike a better balance between work and family life by choosing a working week combination which best suits their family circumstances;
- the teleworking scheme is voluntary;
- different types of teleworking are provided - multi-site teleworking; tele-homeworking; telecontractors/freelance teleworking; telecommuting/mobile teleworking; telecottage and relocated back-office working.
Teleworking clearly benefits both employers and employees and will become increasingly more important in the light of rising skill shortages. With current advances in technology, in which virtual call centres are possible and work can be contracted out, greater opportunities are emerging to include a greater number of job types in the teleworking area. Teleworking will be an important option for family members who wish to improve the trade off between hours worked and family/leisure time.
7.8 Other issues and concerns
A number of other issues were raised in the context of family friendly initiatives which are of relevance to this report. For example a number of organisations have introduced crche facilities as part of their efforts to develop a more family-friendly workplace, including the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) and Dublin Corporation. Both organisations also emphasise the links between a range of family friendly initiatives and the wider issue of equal opportunity in the workplace.
In this regard, the Equal Opportunities Office of the ESB has produced a useful booklet, Striking the Balance - combining your Career and Other Commitments (1999) which outlines the provisions of the various flexible working arrangements available to staff. In the case of Dublin Corporation a range of wider policies complement the family friendly approach they have adopted. For example, they have trained counsellors in place, with whom staff can discuss personal or work-related issues and other facilities and supports, including health screening and parenting workshops. Finally, they are also considering proposals to set up a summer project on-site for the children of employees.
The particular needs of small to medium enterprises (SMEs) were also raised during these interviews as well as in other relevant studies. A recent report by New Ways to Work (1999) suggests that flexibility and family friendly working can be easier to achieve in small and medium enterprises for a number of reasons. For example, the organisational structure in small companies often lends itself more to informality, flexibility and interaction, as well as access by employees to senior management. As a consequence, flexible working arrangements may be tailored more to individual need rather than follow agreed formulae or guidelines laid down at national level, making it easier for employers to be responsive to employee needs. At the same time, there are also a number of barriers to the introduction of flexible working arrangements in SMEs. Such barriers include lack of time and available resources, comparatively greater difficulties in managing the administration of schemes such as maternity leave and parental leave, and information overload from government and other public bodies.
Finally, in the context of family friendly initiatives, research is increasingly being undertaken into the specific needs of particular groups within society. For example, NWW has undertaken research and disseminated findings through the production of factsheets in relation to the specific concerns of groups, such as lone parents and people with disabilities. For example, a recent study (NWW, 1999) concluded that, "many jobs have been created on traditional assumptions that an employee's first commitment is to their job and that supporting activities (running the home, childcare, caring for elderly relatives) are the responsibility of a non-working spouse". The study concluded that these assumptions are particularly worrying in the light of changing demographic trends. For example, in the case of lone parents, they suggest that the barriers are particularly acute since sole responsibility for children means that they may have had little opportunity to gain educational skills, with the result that they are especially disadvantaged in the labour market and frequently underpaid. NWW identify a range of measures which would assist in addressing such issues, including part-time work, term time work and job-sharing, and a range of organisations who provide such arrangements are cited, including Marks and Spencers, Boots and Shell. In recognition of the particular concerns of lone parents, the UK Government recently established a New Deal for Lone Parents (NDLP) which offered among other things, advice and counselling for lone parents to enable them to return to work, advice on budgeting and childcare.
7.9 Key messages
Drawing upon the findings from the workplace analysis, a number of key messages can be identified:
- While arrangements such as job-sharing and flexitime are well established in the public service, with the exception of term-time working, there has been little attempt to experiment with more innovative arrangements
- In the commercial sector, it is more difficult to generalise about the prevalence of arrangements. By and large, it would appear that arrangements tend to be more informal in nature, compared with the public sector.
- Typical concerns expressed centred on business needs which can make it difficult to accommodate flexible working arrangements, particularly in the SME sector.
- Overall, despite limited experience in both sectors, there is recognition that growing trends in relation to labour market supply and new technology will influence the further development of flexible working arrangements.
- The experience of organisations, such as New Ways to Work in the UK, could suggest a valuable model for the provision of authoritative and accessible information on family friendly working arrangements to employers and employees alike to fill the current knowledge gap and help tackle the negative perceptions that persist in some areas.
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