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Carers unaware of flexible working options

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According to one of two pieces of research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation during National Work–Life Balance Week, working parents with dependent children and staff who care for older relatives are often unaware of the flexible work arrangements that could help them, even when their employers have adopted a formal ‘work–life balance’ policy. Investigation in six large workplaces offering family-friendly employment has found as many as half the employees – including those with caring responsibilities – were unaware of the options available.

Main findings
– All six workplaces had adopted a wide range of family-friendly employment policies, including compassionate leave, carer’s leave, flexitime, shift-swapping arrangements and voluntary reductions in hours worked. Yet 50 per cent of the employees surveyed were unaware of these options.

– Managers’ knowledge of work–life balance policies varied between organisations. Supermarket managers were particularly well informed, while awareness among local government managers was lower than expected.

– Most managers were sympathetic to carers’ needs, but felt there was a lack of training, guidance and consultation about work–life balance issues. Some also voiced concern that demanding service delivery targets were making it more difficult to agree to unpaid leave and other requests for flexibility from carers. Reorganisation and leaner staffing arrangements in local authorities and banks had also created barriers to the effective implementation of family-friendly employment policies.

– Managerial discretion played an important part in enabling employees to balance their work and caring responsibilities. Some carers thought this had led to inequalities in the way that individual staff were treated.

– Only a minority of carers made use of formal care services for children and older or disabled people, and employers had little contact with local service providers.

Sue Yeandle, co-author of the study, said: “Employers should clearly be doing more to raise awareness of their family-friendly employment policies among the workforce. The need for better training in how to implement those policies fairly, identified by many managers, is another area that needs to be addressed.”

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