There has been no increase in employers’ provision of flexible working between 2004 and 2011, according to a new government-sponsored report.
The 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Study (WERS), which was last run in 2004, explores the current state of workplace relations and covers a wide range of issues such as the relationship between employer and employee, work life balance, equality and diversity, training, pay and working hours.
It finds the proportion of workplace managers who think it is up to employees to balance their work and family responsibilities has increased.
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The report says that in 2011, part-time work and flexitime were the most widely available forms of flexible working. Flexitime was the most commonly used by employees. Those with caring responsibilities were more likely to use flexible working arrangements than employees without such responsibilities, but they reported higher levels of work-life conflict nonetheless.
Overall the report noted no consistent pattern in the availability of flexible working arrangements between 2004 and 2011.The proportion of workplaces where some employees were able to work from home or work compressed hours increased between 2004 and 2011. In contrast, the proportion of workplaces with job sharing or reduced hours fell.
There was a very similar picture within workplaces that allowed some employees to reduce their working hours. Some 86% of these allowed all employees to do so, 11% limited the provision only to employees who had a statutory right to request flexible working, and 3% restricted provision to other groups (in addition to those with the statutory right to make a request).
Twenty-seven per cent of workplaces with some female staff offered maternity pay in excess of Statutory Maternity Pay for some of the period of maternity leave. Among workplaces with some male staff, 21% offered paternity pay in excess of the statutory minimum.
Workplace managers were asked to identify constraints to the provision of flexible working arrangements. An incompatibility with the nature of the work or the operating hours was the most commonly cited constraint in 2011. The cost of providing flexible working arrangements was seen as a barrier to provision in only a small percentage (9%) of workplaces, while managers in 27% of workplaces reported no constraints at all. Managers in small private sector enterprises were more likely to report no constraints (31%) than those in larger private sector enterprises (22%) or the public sector (20%).
Over one third (36%) of managers in female-dominated workplaces (i.e. where more than three quarters of the workforce was female) reported that they were constrained by the pressure that flexible working arrangements put on other employees, compared with 28% of managers in workplaces with a lower proportion of female workers. More than a quarter (28%) of managers in male-dominated workplaces cited a lack of demand for flexible working from employees, compared with 14% in female-dominated workplaces.
Among employees, the most commonly used flexible working arrangements were flexitime (30%), working from home (17%) and taking paid leave to care for a dependant in an emergency (12%).
The report also shows that, although the UK workforce is increasingly diverse and legislation has sought to help achieve equal opportunity at work and although workplace policies have changed to reflect this situation, practice on the ground has “changed little” since 2004.
The Government said the report showed employee satisfaction and commitment to their place of work has significantly increased in recent years and that managers are communicating better with staff.
The fieldwork for WERS took place between March 2011 and June 2012. It involved interviews with almost 2,700 managers and 1,000 worker representatives, and surveyed more than 21,000 employees.