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Study notes

Flexible Working

  • Levels: GCSE, AS, A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Flexible working describes a range of employment options designed to help employees balance work and home life.

Why use the term “flexible”? It is because flexible working relates to working arrangements where there are a variety of options offered to employees in terms of working time, working location and the pattern of working.

Amongst the most popular flexible working practices are the following:

Part-time workingTerm-time workingWorking from home
FlexitimeCareer breaksJob sharing
Annual hours contractsMobile workingShift swapping

Of the options listed above, by far the most popular in the UK currently is part-time working. 86% of businesses surveyed by the CPID in 2007 offered part-time working options. Job sharing, flexitime and working from home are also increasingly popular.

There are good business reasons why businesses are increasingly likely to offer employees one or more flexible working options. For example:

  • Most importantly, savings on costs. A business can make substantial savings on overheads if it does not have to provide office and other accommodation for so many employees or if staff can work from home rather than commute into work every day
  • As a way of helping with recruitment and staff retention. There is lots of evidence that flexible working results in better job satisfaction and higher staff morale
  • To reflect the changing profile of the UK workforce. There are more women in the labour market and an ageing population – as a result, it is increasingly common for staff to have caring responsibilities outside work
  • To take advantage of developments in technology – it is now simple and cost-effective for employees to be able to access their employers online and other networked systems, and to communicate digitally with colleagues
  • An increasing need for businesses to be able to deliver services to customers on a 24/7 basis. Flexible working makes it easier for businesses to offer extended opening hours, for example
  • The “credit crunch” - some organisations, for example firms of lawyers and accountants, have offered part-time working or career breaks as a method of avoiding or minimising redundancies
  • To meet employment legislation – increasingly the law allows certain groups of employees the legal right to request flexible working

Whilst there any many advantages to flexible working, it is not always simple or appropriate to introduce it.

Amongst the concerns that employers often raise about flexible working are:

  • Additional administrative work and “red-tape” involved in setting up and running flexible working
  • The potential loss of customers if key employees reduce their working hours
  • Lower employee productivity
  • Inability to substitute for certain skills if certain employees are absent (a common concern of smaller businesses_
  • Managers finding it difficult to manage or administer the flexibility

A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that flexible working practices were most likely to be found in the following situations:

  • In large organisations and businesses
  • In public sector organisations
  • Where the business does not operate in a highly competitive industry
  • Where there are recognised unions
  • Where there is a well established HR function
  • Where there is high employee involvement in decision-making
  • In workforces with larger proportions of women
  • Where there is a highly educated workforce who has a large amount of discretion in organising work (e.g. professions, creative industries)

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