This case study is of a project that has encouraged workers in
a highly traditional environment to think differently about their
work and how it might be approached. Neither staff nor management
had previously believed that flexibility was possible.
Interestingly, although some staff felt that a flexible hours
environment would not make a significant difference to their
working lives, in practice most have said that it has been a
positive thing and that they have taken or will be taking
advantage of the additional flexibility it offers. The most junior
clerk also expressed considerable satisfaction in that it gave him
a sense of responsibility about his work and a motivation to get
things dome at different times of day to allow him to ‘flex’ his
work at other times of day. This also has a positive effect on
Cloisters is a barristers’ chambers providing
legal advice and representation primarily in employment,
discrimination, personal injury, clinical negligence, public law,
commercial media and sport. Barristers are individual
practitioners who work in groups of offices known as chambers.
Barristers’ chambers are unique organisationally, in that they are
a collection of self-employed people with an interest in the
reputation and success of their Chambers, but with individual
specialisms and aspirations.
Barristers are primarily regulated
by the Bar Council. As the law has become more complex, barristers
increasingly specialise in particular areas of work. There has
been constant growth in the profession over recent years, although
this has slowed and in 2000 was 2%. Indicators show a levelling
out is likely. There has been a corresponding growth in the size
of barristers’ chambers; in1986 the average number was 16, this
increased to 28 in 2001. This means that barristers are working in
larger units than was historically the case, impacting on their
organisation and staffing.
The challenge of larger chambers has
been addressed by some practices with the introduction of a
Practice Manager – Cloisters introduced such a post in 2001. Other
organisational challenges include increased competitiveness with a
consequential need for improved marketing and reputation
management, making best use of technology, and responding to
demographic and social trends which impact on staff and tenants.
Cloisters has 40 barristers supported by 10.5 staff and the
project was aimed primarily at these staff.
business issues originally identified for the project are:
- Compliance with employment law and best practice
- Business improvements
The staff at Cloisters are a mixture of long serving and new
staff. Informal discussions with staff have highlighted increasing
concerns about work and resources. The work-life balance project
is part of an overall strategy to address these. Other initiatives
include a review of telephone procedures and a plan to introduce
new telephone system in the autumn, and an increase in staffing by
Aims of the Project
Cloisters’ aims for the work-life balance project were to:
- be a progressive and pioneering chambers
- enhance Cloisters’ corporate reputation
- ensure best practice and compliance with the law in
relation to people policies
- be an employer of choice for new recruits
- assist a shift in culture towards devolved responsibility
and staff empowerment
- reduce staff absence
- introduce more manageable working hours
- improve time-keeping
- provide more robust telephone and reception cover
- improve ability to find time off for training
- improve staff morale.
A flexible hours framework was drafted by Swiftwork and then
developed further to meet Cloisters’ specific needs. This is the
basis on which the pilot is proceeding.
Cloisters’ flexible hours scheme was developed in full
consultation with the staff. It is based on other similar schemes
but has been tailored to meet Cloisters’ business needs. Following
on from a principles based approach, it contains standards and
ground rules developed by the team. Staff must work their
contractual hours over any four-week period, subject to the
scheme’s arrangements for carry over of debit or credit balances.
Development of outline Service Charter –The development of a
service charter or agreement has been identified as necessary to
the success of the project. An outline framework was developed,
based on discussions with staff and barristers and drawing on an
existing clerking protocol.
Staff invention and operation of the scheme has been critical
to its success. A rota designed by the Clerking team is completed
by all one week in advance. This has in-built flexibility, in that
individuals may adjust their proposed times only in consultation
with colleagues and provided there is adequate cover.
Staff are utilising the scheme in different ways to suit their
business and personal circumstances. Some are working flexibly
throughout the week creating opportunities to extend lunch breaks,
arrive or leave early etc. and others are accruing time towards
‘flexi days’ away from work.
Whilst the changes implemented have
been modest in absolute terms, for a traditional profession
with significant external and internal barriers, this was a
Examples of impact
Discussions with staff demonstrated that an overwhelming
majority of them felt that the flexible hours scheme had had a
positive impact on their lives. Even staff who were initially
sceptical acknowledged that the scheme had been beneficial, not
just to colleagues, but also for themselves. It may be that the
ability to improve people’s lives by increasing their ability to
control their working day had been underestimated.
have now joined the flexitime scheme; participation remains
optional, and some staff took part only after the scheme had
been operation for a while, and colleagues were obviously
gaining benefits from it.
Some staff had taken initiatives
such as joining gyms and adjusting family childcare
arrangements. For some the difference it has made is palpable,
reinforced by quotes such as:
“When we are busy, I can now stay beyond my normal hours to
make sure that everything is completed and up-to-date, and I know
that I will be credited for this extra work. Previously, there was
no reward for helping in this way”.
“Going to the gym takes
longer than an hour, and the scheme allows me to take the
extra time needed to go at lunchtime some days, while
knowing that colleagues on the rota are providing the
necessary cover at the office”
“I feel so much better. The
week is no longer never ending.”
“I actually have time now
to relax in the evenings and can get ready to go out without
“I don’t have to run down the road
anymore when I’m ten minutes late because the tubes are bad.
I just make the time up.”
“I feel healthier and less
“Last week, I was able to take advantage of
half term by coming in earlier and leaving earlier”
good to know that, in future, I’ll be able to attend some of
my children’s daytime school events, such as class
assemblies and sports days”.
Before the scheme was introduced, there was no reward for
working additional hours, for example, where required because of
short-staffing or the need to collect files from a court hearing
which had run late. This eroded goodwill relating and was a
problem identified at the outset of the project. The flexible
hours scheme provides for extra time worked to be recorded and
acknowledged through accrual and this had led to an increased
inclination to respond to unplanned business demands – in effect a
return of some goodwill.
Responsibility for organising a rota
for cover has been devolved to the clerks’ team, as mentioned
above. This change of responsibility has proved a success.
Late arrival of staff in the morning was a continuing source of
complaint by barristers. Equally, staff found the 8.30am start
time inflexible, stressful (especially when there were public
transport problems), and unnecessary. Now, barristers know that
staff on flexitime are paid only for hours worked, while the rota
allows for staggered start times.