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
- By 2010, nearly 10 million people will have caring
responsibilities for an older relative, due to the ageing
- 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
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
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