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Changing work to meet the future

Equal Opportunities Commission report sees flexibility as the way to go

It's time to break free from the shackles of 20th century workstyles, according to the UK Equal Opportunities Commission.  It is these outdate workstyles that, according to the Commission

  • waste potential
  • give less time for caring
  • create more stress-related problems and illnesses
  • perpetuate low pay for women and their families
  • reduce competitiveness, and
  • create traffic congestion and environmental damage.

These are all areas of great concern for the EOC, and in a new report Working Outside the Box (January 2007) they see flexible working as key to overcoming these problems.

Insightful and thought-provoking findings

Coming at the question of workplace change from the perspective of equalities and welfare, the study provides sharp insights into the wider impacts of the way we work.

Findings form the research include:

  • 4.8 million people are not fully using their skills in their current jobs, and say they would have made different job choices had flexible work been available
  • A further 1.7 million say the availability of flexible work would encourage them back into employment
  • 60% of people in their survey had not seen any information about jobs where flexible working was available
  • Between 2000 and 2005 the number of fathers working from home more than doubled, from 14% to 29%
  • 50% of adults say they would like to work more flexible hours (52% men, 48% women).

From the evidence, it appears there is a growing unmet demand for flexible work.  Employers and the government are responding - but so far too slowly, the report says.

The social context of change

The report highlights the changes in society creating this demand, and also making greater flexibility more urgent:

  • More women are working - and the increase of women in the workforce will continue.  It is expected that women will occupy more of the new jobs, and more will return to work sooner after childbirth
  • Men are more likely to be active fathers.  4 out of 5 new fathers say they would be happy to stay at home and look after the baby, if it were possible
  • The planned extension of the state retirement age will lead to more older people wanting to work reduced hours around retirement
  • By 2010, nearly 10 million people will have caring responsibilities for an older relative, due to the ageing population
  • The government's target of getting 50% of young people into Higher Education by 2010 will mean that even more young people will need to combine work and study.

The business context of change

The report notes all the measures we have featured in Flexibility - the impacts on:

  • reducing property costs
  • reducing absenteeism
  • retaining staff
  • reducing stress and increasing well-being
  • improving customer service and satisfaction.

It also cites the government's 2nd Work-life Balance Survey which demonstrates how employers who provide work-life balance practices report a positive impact on employee relations (71%), employee commitment and motivation (69%) and labour turnover (54%).

Where the report breaks more new ground is uncovering data relating to the huge waste of talent that goes hand-in-hand with recruitment difficulties that many employers face.

  • 3 million parents of children under 16 are in low level jobs or do not work.
  • The number of women graduates in low-level jobs has almost trebled from 1995 to 2005 - from 5% to 13%.
  • 1 in 10 women graduates work in low-level jobs throughout their working lives.
  • Only 45% of women graduates are now in high level jobs, compared to 65% in 1995.

Clearly the rise in the number of women going to university is not having the expected impact on their prospects in the workplace.  In principle there is greater opportunity to rise to higher positions.  But in practice, workplace flexibility and the conflicting demands of work and family life act as overwhelming restraints for many.

This under-use of skills is critical for business at a time when 22% of employers expect they will not be able to fill all graduate vacancies.

In professions like law and accountancy, there are now more female graduates leaving university than male.  Yet few senior positions are occupied by women. The report also notes that in the legal professions, 64% of employees surveyed are already planning for early retirement or scaling down of their work due to the long hours culture and fear of "burn-out".

The EOC recommends

The report makes 3 key recommendations:

  • The government needs to develop a strategy to end the "leakage of skills" and to help people re-use their skills
  • Employers should make their staff aware of flexible working options, discuss with them the options, and train their managers to deliver them
  • The government should extend the current statutory "right to request flexible work" to everyone.

We greatly welcome hope the report makes an impact in all the right places.


Flexible Work = more equality, opportunity and balance

The way we work no longer fits the world we live in.  If it is changed, we all could win.

This is the verdict of a new and thoughtful study from the UK's Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).

Working Outside the Box is their interim report on "the transformation of work" - and it comes out strongly in favour of flexible work.



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