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Monday, 6 January, 2003, 09:55 GMT
Flexible hours: Would it work in your job?
Job hunters would rather have flexible working conditions than extra pay, according to a new online survey.
Flexible hours were more attractive than an extra £1,000 a year to one in three people questioned by reed.co.uk for the Department for Trade and Industry.
At least nine out of ten people would rather have flexi-time in their jobs than perks like company cars or gym memberships.
From April, new "family friendly" employment rights will come into force which give parents the right to request more flexible working terms.
The legislation allows parents of children under six or disabled children under 18 to ask for more variable hours to suit their home commitments.
Is it feasible to bring in flexi-time to your work? Would your boss agree to more flexibility in your role? Would the legislation help your home life?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I work in a call centre and it depends what you mean by flexible. We have to be prepared to work every day of the year including Christmas day and work shifts - the earliest start is 8h30 and the last shift finishes at 22h00. Flexitime would be impossible to implement in our office as despite the fact that everyone here knew they were going to be working shifts when they applied for the job, in reality they all want to work day shifts, which you just can't do. The shifts are annoying sometimes but we have the opportunity to swap them with colleagues which can be tricky but I consider it flexible enough.
This is about tailoring the workplace to individual needs at different stages of their career and personal life, not about giving privileges to families. However, the potential consequences of failing to pick a child up from school on time or not being there for them when they are ill due to inflexible employers (or based on the tone here, their work colleagues) is likely to be far more dire than not being there for a delivery man or not going fishing!
How intriguing that the term family only covers parents with small children. There is no mention in this legislation of workers who care for their own elderly parents - arguably a more selfless and socially-necessary role given the dearth of nursing homes.
I once worked for a company that had flexible working hours - and it was constantly abused. I knew a group of people who played snooker from 6 to 8 every evening in the company recreation room so they could take 2 days off every month. Unsurprisingly the flexi-hours scheme was abandoned and replaced with fixed hours.
Flexi-time is definitely a good thing in principle. But as some contributors have suggested, it DOES lead to single or childless people, not only doing more hours, but also doing almost all the unsociable hours. I'm really fed up of hearing "I've got to take the kids to... so can you do the meeting this evening." Why should my life outside work suffer because my boss can't be bothered to get a babysitter?
Interesting that the first poster comments are that those bringing up children are contributing to the future of the country unlike the childless. This seems uncannily like the philosophy behind the "orking families tax credit" Of course many of the childless don't get the allowances that many parents now get - but only contribute to them. Nor do they have children being put through the education system or using the NHS at cost. Many people in professions supporting and serving families with children are also childless themselves.
By all means state that having and bringing up children properly is important for the future, but don't belittle the contributions, financial or otherwise, of those who don't have them.
As parents, we are investing in the future of this country (unlike the couples who choose to remain childless), and as investments need to be nurtured to encourge good growth, any extra time we are able to spend with our children can only be a good thing.
In response to Jennifer's comments: I don't have any children, but I am a researcher working with cancer. I might not be contributing to the future population but I am contributing to future health. Why am I and others like me than 'less deserving' of flexi-time that those with children? The truthful answer is that I'm not and its insulting to say otherwise.
I find Jennifer, UK's comments insulting. To suggest that only by having children is one investing in the future of the country is ridiculous. My taxes are paying for other people's children's education and healthcare and funding working parents' tax credits. If that's not investing in the future of the country I don't know what is.
To Jennifer, how dare you, I am unable to have children.
Delilah, Ringwood, Dorset
I think any reasonable employer would let someone arrive late, or leave early, on an occasional basis when the need arose. When I take my car to the garage for its MOT I arrive late and leave early on the same day. My boss is happy with this, as he knows that I will make up the time another day. Likewise I accept that some days I won't leave at my usual time if something specific needs doing. The question is about the application of common sense, something which legislation is notoriously bad at enforcing.
I think it's wonderful someone's finally doing something to help family life from falling apart.
I feel that if a couple want children it is their own choice. Why should they be any more eligible for flexi time / time off just because they choose to have children? This is discrimination against those who choose not to have children. Can I have flexi time / time off if I want to go fishing for the afternoon? I very much doubt it.
Please do not offer flexible hours to those with children - people without children end up doing longer and longer hours through the fecklessness of these people. I am fed up hearing "I have to leave at 3 to pick up my children". While I was bringing up children I was never allowed to do this and I don't feel generous enough to let others. I had to organise and manage, with the help of friends and neighbours. I would much rather see more pay for longer hours.
I work to live, so the more time I get off work the better.
Doesn't the survey also tell us that 66% would prefer the money to the flexible hours! The problem with flexible hours is that they inherently encourage selfishness. We want to work the hours that suit us, but then expect other workers (in particular doctors, retail workers, bar staff, transport staff etc) to also work hours that suit our needs. Flexible hours cannot work universally. They're fine for industries without "direct consumer contact" but impractical elsewhere. The move to home-working is likewise going to be very slow.
RC Robjohn, UK
My children are both in their 20's but I will be looking forward to arranging my working hours around my social life. Shame they will not be able to benefit from this scheme though.
Flexible working can work well but only if there is give and take from both parents and non-parents. I don't resent parents being given special privileges - what I do resent is the assumption that I have no life outside the office just because I am childless.
This is a blatant display of discrimination. Why is it only applicable to people with children under six? What about those of us who have older children or none at all.
Flexible working is for the benefit of all, for those with a hangover, hobbies, children or partners!! Policies written and used in this way reduce staff resentment towards parents as a group. The management of flexible working is key to it's success. Businesses need to measure productivity against work targets and not against hours worked. For those abusing and jeopardising the privilege, supervision and sanctions placed on the individual are the answer.
I would never be allowed to work 'flexible' hours. I am a corporate solicitor working in the City and am expected to service the needs of my clients (businesses)at times which suit them and not myself, which in practice means that most days I start work at 8.00am and do not leave until at least 7.30pm (on a good day!) and often 11.00pm or later on busy days. There is no concept of overtime in my job - you are simply expected to work as late as the job requires on any given day, and sometimes this includes weekends and bank holidays. As a woman, if I had children and asked to work more flexible hours my promotion prospects would effectively be written off and I would be regarded as not 'committed' or 'ambitious' enough. So spare a thought for all us professionals in the City - working practices may be changing in other parts of the economy but it will be a long time before the likes of me benefit, if indeed it ever happens!
I worked in the IT department of an investment bank which allowed home working and flexible working hours. The system wasn't abused, problems got fixed, systems got developed, the sky didn't fall in!
Although there are enlightened bosses like these, it takes several years for reality to sink in for the remainder. Regulation is a way to speed up this process.
Last year, after finding myself stressed out from my job and reaching the point of wanting to work shorter hours or getting another job (after 4 years), I suggested not working every second Wednesday instead of a pay rise. My boss agreed - he pays less tax and pays less for my salary and I also pay less tax - so we both win. He can, and does, call me if he needs to. I am happy with this as he doesn't abuse the facility. I also gain the extra time which is worth far more than the money. PS: I don't have children or a husband!
It is purely down to supply and demand, if labour is in short supply then firms will be flexible.
Miranda Grell, London, UK
Right now in Britain we have an unemployment rate of 2-3%. Why are we rushing to adopt the policies of countries like France and Germany with 9-10%? Patricia Hewitt, who has never run a business, needs to learn to leave well enough alone before she kills the goose that lays the golden egg.
As an employer, I would prefer to allow flexible working hours as they allow people to work when they are most productive. However, I have recently stopped flexible working hours for all of my employees due to overwhelming abuse of the system. I found people would arrive close to lunch and leave around 5 in the evening. Discussions and disciplining employees failed to correct this problem so I have been left with no other choice. If the employees respond well to the new fixed hours, I will consider limited flexibility in the future.
All these emails make me laugh! You just don't know how good you've got it. Here in the USA, the standard working day is 9-6, and we get only 10 days vacation a year. Boxing Day? What's that? Doesn't exist in the good ole US. And Good Friday or Easter Monday? No such thing. Enjoy your time y'all, you've got plenty of it.
Michele(USA) Your overworking must have clouded your memory.
In the US you get 12 official Bank Holidays, of which two are for Good Friday and Easter Monday, we in England only get 8 Bank Holidays. So whose got it good now??
I used to think the UK was bad but after being in HK for some time I've found it's even worse. What's more it's due to the colonial history. Picture the UK, 5 or 10 years ago and you've got the culture. You're expected to come in at 8:30am and not even consider leaving before 6pm. What's more, every other Saturday you have to work from 8:30am until 12:30pm. Overtime - don't even think about it. To add insult to injury, my old department in the UK (part of the same company) now offers flexitime.
I think it is really sad that those without children are becoming resentful to those with children. Organisations have lost and will continue to lose an enormous skill base if as a nation we do not do away with our long hours culture (the longest in Europe) and do more to get a work life balance for all, not just those with children!
I work a four-day week and was recently offered full pay in exchange for five days of work. I turned it down, because having free time is more important than a few extra pounds. No kids, either.
Mike Evans, UK
Some jobs simply don't allow flexi-time. If one day you get to work and your computer doesn't function, you probably wouldn't care if the IT support are going to stay late because they are coming in late. You would want someone to fix it, right now, not a minute later, and rightly so. If you want flexi-time change your job to one that allows it. Become a writer or something.
Once again those with children get a perk that those without don't. Workers without a family will again have to cover for those who have to leave early. Not everyone can afford to raise a family or have opportunity to do so. Many people of different groups are already fighting for equal pay and rights at work, now the government are destroying that.
I used to work a flexi system when I worked for the government and I have to say that it suited me great, although I tended to save up the time and take whole days off rather than leave early. Now I work for an organisation that is required to provide minimum staff cover for 24 hours a day. Shift work! No matter how much the regulations might say my employer should consider flexi working, they will be completely unable to because of the 24 hour cover needed. Yet again society forgets that there are a huge number of workers out there that have never had the luxury of 9-5 working. No doubt we will all be 'exempt' as usual.
I have a feeling that working extra hours is now considered to be par for the course by most employers. If I asked to leave work half an hour early because I'd arrived at 8.30am, I'd probably be asked to leave a lot earlier than I'd planned. Employers can't afford to let staff think that working your contracted hours is enough.
Yes, people should try to embrace flexible working wherever possible. When my first child was born, I worked for a company with a terrible culture of presentee-ism, with anyone putting in less than an hour's (free) overtime being frowned upon, and feel that I missed out greatly. I now work from home, and with my second child, find that I can spare an hour in the afternoon, and do my e-mails in the evening after bedtime - The difference has been immense, and I feel the whole family has benefited.
I am an employer running a small legal firm. We try to be as flexible as possible with staff hours, but have to take into account the needs of the business, the needs of other staff who need support, and of clients who expect our staff to be present during 'normal' hours. All of my staff do in fact have different hours of work, so that they have some flexibility but restricted to the needs of the business. Without considering the needs of the business, there would be no jobs for any of them!
I have some degree of flexibility in my job. If I come in 30 minutes early, I can leave 30 minutes early. It's ok, but I'd much prefer proper flexi-time where you can save up your extra hours over the course of a few weeks and have a day off here and there (which is what I had in my civil service job). I may have been in the office more on the days I was working, but it meant I had an extra 10-15 days off per year, which was nice! Somehow I don't see my manager agreeing to that. It was hard enough getting him to agree to what I have!!
Until recently I had flexi-time in my job as a computer programmer.
Now we have to be in at 9:30am on the dot. At 9:32 the Office Manager comes round and ticks names off a list which gets emailed to the CEO. Now I make sure I leave at exactly 6:00pm and don't do any voluntary overtime. If I was treated as an adult I would make more effort.
Flexible working hours were introduced into this company some 15 month ago but as from 1st January 2003 have been discontinued because of a minority of employees abusing the situation. The result for me is that, because I am now forced to travel at peak times, my travelling time has increased by approx one hour per day.
I have been self-employed for over twelve years, and became so primarily for the flexible hours. I wanted to be able to bring up my children myself without the use of minders or nannies, be able to attend school events, be available when they are sick, be home when they come home, be around in the school holidays and so on.
I work for a retailer with over 50,000 employees in the UK and the working hours are paradise. Our Director (I work in IT) just asks the team leaders that appropriate coverage for the business is ensured. In our team we start anywhere between 7:15 and 10:00 in the morning and leave accordingly in the afternoon. Two years ago I stopped working on a Monday (I'm not married and have no children), so I actually have a life before retirement. I work 28 hours a week and taking holidays and bank holidays into account I work exactly half a year and have half a year off. Love it.
My company have total flexi-time - as long as your hours add up at the end of the year you can come and go as you please. When it is busy I work long hours 40-60 per week (often from home and at weekends), but other times (i.e. between contracts) I don't come in at all or do 3 or 4 hour days. The amount of hours you work in a year is up to the individual - I do 1,725 hours per year, but others do less - almost all of these hours are done during 3 or 4 short busy periods in the year. This makes more business sense as the company only pay me for hours worked, not hours sitting around with nothing to do until the next contract comes in. Surely this makes economic sense as well as being good for employee morale?
Flexi-time is an excellent idea. But better still, I think that we should all work a four-day week. Life is too short and we spend far too much time at work. What's the point of earning more money if work robs us of the time and inclination to spend it? PS Feel sorry for Kate (below) - her boss sounds awful, but all too common in the British working environment.
It should be introduced. And considering we in the UK work the most hours than anywhere else, companies/managers should take this into consideration and meet us halfway. I agree with Vish (below) that the current hours in the UK are ridiculous and in light of recent discussions about parents (fathers) not being home with their children, the law should change to accommodate flexi-time OR reduced hours.
Anyone of any age or capability can work whatever hours they like by setting up their own business and becoming self-employed. The disadvantage of course is that you get rewarded only for the value you add to society and not for just turning up.
My company operates flexi time and I'm useless in the morning so its great to be able to stroll in at 9:30 or 10. I have no problem then working until 6 or 7. I don't need to drive to work but many I work with do and they say its great to be able to miss rush hour, instead of spending 1-2 hours a day in traffic they spend 20 minutes, everyone wins!
I'm cabin crew so my hours are already very flexible!
G Williams, UK
I have recently moved to a small company which allows flexi-time. Unfortunately, I happen to be an early morning person so always come in for 9. Especially in winter, I'd rather finish work as early as possible and have a couple of quiet, relaxing hours at home before I have to get up again and come back in. The problem is that my boss and the rest of my colleagues always show up sometime between 10-12. Since we don't have any punch-card system, its always hard for me to leave at 6 because everyone thinks I am sneaking off early, which means that the last three months I haven't left work earlier than 7. Can I have my 9-6 back please?
As long as you work your contracted hours, should it really matter when you start and when you finish? I work for a major UK building society that runs a very effective flexitime system - we start between 8 and 10, finish between 4 and 6 and any time worked in excess of a 7 hour day is accrued and taken off as time in lieu. It makes the life/work balance much easier to achieve - I'm a new father and have found that my employer and immediate manager have been exceptionally supportive as I've adapted to the new routines and pressures that such a big change in my life has brought. A documented commitment to flexibility in the workplace and a sensible policy to back this up are in place
I'm my own boss and I think I should work more flexible hours. If I can find time I'll have a word with myself about it.
I negotiated a 4 day week (and 20% pay cut) in September 2002. I don't have a family, but was becoming totally stressed out by my managerial position, so much so that it was starting to interfere with my life and I needed to get the work/life balance back. I now have every Wednesday off, and it is extremely motivating and exhilarating to know that I only need to work 2 days together before I'm able to devote some of my life to doing things I want to do. My employer insisted that I be available for busy periods or project work, but again, this is working out well as I can work the extra hours on my terms. I appreciate not everyone is in the position to be able to earn less. But from my personal viewpoint, I would rather have more time for me that the latest DVD player or sports car.
The biggest problem with flexi time is that it tends to be frowned upon if someone is seen to leave early, no matter how early they arrived. For instance, my boss was recently given redundancy. He was selected because of his 'attitude to working hours'. He worked 7am to 5pm (ie 10 hrs). Others who work 10am to 7pm (ie 9 hrs) are not commented on, because they're seen to be still there when others are packing up to leave. So yes please, let's have more flexible time. But bosses need to note that starting early involves just as much work as finishing late.
My boss considers us to be responsible adults. We are assumed to know what our workload is and it goes unsaid that we will not abuse out boss' trust. We have the freedom - within reason - to work from home, or to come in late one day and stay late another, as long as the job gets done and we are prepared to be flexible also when there is a lot of work on. But perhaps that is one of the benefits of working in a small team?
I have lived in the UK for 5 years now and am forever shocked at how badly people are treated here by employers as compared with anywhere else in Europe. Working 40-50 hours a week wrecks peoples personal lives and in the end affects their work badly.. Work to Live don't Live to Work. If your employer doesn't respect your work life balance, vote with your feet and leave him/her.
When the working hours directive first became law my previous employers (a large management and IT consultancy) immediately asked every employee to sign a form waiving their rights to a 40 hour week, so I can imagine their response to flexible hours. Last year I downshifted from that mad environment to a rather smaller company though .. where I now have a very handy arrangement that enables me to take 3-4 unpaid days each month working and campaigning for the community. If others voted with their feet then the world would change .. but nobody's going to magically change it for you.
Peter Connolly, England
I don't see why flexi-time should be restricted to couples with children. I am single and live alone, and when my combination boiler broke down last week I had to spend the day waiting at home for the plumber (who, of course, did a no-show.) I am now wondering whether I should book this day as annual leave...
As a lawyer in an investment bank, I'm afraid that flexi-time "for parents only" would create resentment - and create more work for those of us picking up the pieces during the busy working day.
So: flexi-time for all, please. Or not at all.
With flexitime both the employer and employee are winners. There are many times when the employer needs its employees to be flexible and work extra. It's only fair that employers are equally as flexible with their employees.
Flexi-time can also be restrictive. If you are working standard hours, if it's quiet often you will be allowed to go home/do errands etc, and in return be expected to stay back if there's more to do. However I work flexi hours and often find myself twiddling my thumbs and getting bored if the office is quiet because I don't want to 'waste' my flexi just because I did my job more quickly than the others!
Yes, flexi-time could be easily introduced in my job. However it will never happen, as the management are so unimaginative, they don't see it as being worth the extra administration!
I agree with Jonathan's comments. My union has actually negotiated a flexi-time agreement with my employer. However, there is a get out clause allowing individual departments the right to opt out. My line manager says that the administrative requirements of a flexi-time system are too onerous. Well, in the meantime they are the losers. Being as badly paid as I am, come 5.20pm, I go home. Full stop. Nothing will make me stay at work. With flexi-time, I'd still work my 37 hours but I'd be much more productive as I would work longer.
I cannot understand the sweatshop mentality that prevails in British business. Or the stupidity of people who agree their company has the God-given right to demand these long hours and bad working conditions. Flexi-time, employee rights, short working hours have all been proved in other countries to improve productivity by MASSIVE margins. 35 hours should be the legal maximum, people are just not productive after that.
It will be interesting to see how imaginative most employers will be in coming up with "good business reasons" to deny the flexible working arrangements. I can't see my employer allowing me to work from home a couple of days a week.
Flexi-time hours would just be abused by people wanting extra hours in bed after an all night drinking binge.
I work flexi-hours (it's quite common here) and the office is buzzing from 7am, but come 3pm on a Friday you won't see them for dust!
It doesn't make any difference to the job, in fact what we need next is home-working.
We already have flexi-hours in our company. So long as you work from 9-5, the other hours you must work to get the job done are entirely up to you!
I have already negotiated a four-day week with my employers (and 20% pay cut) that started just after the arrival of our second child. I feel much less stressed and no longer dread going to work. This has also been reflected in my last review, apparently I now have a better attitude towards work, and there doesn't appear to be any drop in my productivity.
I am fortunate to be self-employed and flexible in my work. I can't imagine greedy employers offering flexibility without a severe decrease in pay. Can compassionate employers who care about the welfare of workers survive in this dog eat dog world we have created?
Me and my partner are due our first child in February and are both earning good money but we have to work awkward shifts. Sometimes we don't see each other for days. We need some flexibility so we can try and be a family
Marie Firth, United Kingdom
No, my boss would never agree. She is a control freak who attempts to micro-manage everything including keeping a record of how often individuals leave their desks.
John B, UK
02 Jan 03 | Business
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