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Feature: Work-life balance – equality for all?

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Flexible working should be offered to all staff – not just those with children, says Karen Charlesworth, Head of Research at the Chartered Management Institute.

 


All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy – a phrase we are all familiar with – but what about John and Mary and Sue? Do they get time to play?

It’s Work Life Balance Week and attention naturally seems to be diverted to the amount of time parents spend with their children. But that is only part of the story. Increased working pressures mean it has become even more difficult for employees to cram their non-work life into a two-day weekend. So people at all levels of an organisation need some provision to cope with the demands of their lives outside the office.

Research by the Chartered Management Institute into the quality of working life discovered that 65% of managers, whether parents or not, claim to work at least one extra hour, unpaid, each day. And 45% believe that they have increased their working hours over the past three years.

In April 2003, the law changed to give parents with children under six (or disabled children under 18) the right to ask employers to "seriously consider" a request for more flexible working conditions.

But despite increased awareness of these new rights and the advantages of having a flexible workforce, there remains unwillingness among employers to let staff out of their sight. A third of managers confirm that their employer has made no provision for employees to work remotely.

Advances in IT and telecommunications allow us more freedom as to where, and when, we work, yet nearly one third of managers spend more than one hour travelling to and from work each day. This figure rises to 62% for those working in London.

For the employer, it might seem that flexible working is all about advantages for the employee, but the employer also has a lot to gain. Higher productivity, lower absenteeism and greater job satisfaction amongst employees…not to mention the lower overhead costs through reduced office space.

There are several issues to consider when looking at the work-life balance issue:

 

 

  • Flexible working is for all staff, not just people with children.

     

  • Be different – assume that all jobs can be done flexibly, unless somebody provides a business case to prove otherwise.

     

  • Research conducted in the past two months shows that approximately one fifth of managers have to use holiday time for basic appointments, such as visiting the dentist and doctor – employers should allow staff the freedom to work around these kinds of appointments.

     

  • Analyse what aspects of the job can be done away from the restrictions of the workplace.

     

  • Don't forget about organisational culture. Adjusting hours may not be the norm but if the proposal benefits the business and staff alike, most bosses will not be closed to change.

     

  • Maintain regular discussions between the manager and employee to keep them informed of activities. If you're open and honest about work away from the office, staff are more likely to respect organisational needs.

 

 

How do we introduce flexible working?

First, secure the commitment of top management. This includes reaching agreement with senior staff on the extent of flexibility, and having a committed individual at senior level to drive the process forward.

The next step is to draw up a profile of the existing workforce and their current hours. Decide exactly how flexible the organisation can afford to be.

– Are you willing to consider all the options or do you need to limit employees to a fixed range?

– Part-time hours, job-sharing, a nine-day fortnight or just the odd day at home when required?

Pilot the scheme and expand it only gradually.

Above all, allow enough time for initiatives to succeed. In the same way that formal attire is not always a requirement at work, we can learn to work productively even if we’re not all in the same place at the same time.

Related feature
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