Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Major new report backs flexible and home working

This is a rather long post, but it's well worth reading since according to a new report from the Equal Opportunities Commission, half of the working population, 52% of men and 48% of women, say they want to work more flexibly.

The EOC’s new report ‘Working outside the box’ has uncovered a massive waste of talent across the workforce. 6.5 million people in Britain today could be using their skills more fully if more flexible working was available, either by working at a level at which they used to work or simply returning to the workforce. Often considered a problem limited to working mothers, the EOC's new findings show that this 'skills drain' affects almost as many men as women, and more non-parents than parents.

'Working outside the box' warns that rigid models of work are driving highly qualified workers into jobs below their skill level in order for them to have a life outside work. One in eight graduate women are working in low-level jobs and the proportion of graduates in high level jobs is falling, despite continuing graduate skill shortages. The waste of people's skills and experience is undermining attempts to create a highly skilled workforce. Outdated workplace cultures are further damaging the economy by increasing pressure on an over-stretched transport system. Overcrowded rush-hour trains and motorways are causing misery for commuters and wasting time for employers.

The struggle to find a job that is compatible with life is leading to increasing pressure for a 'new deal' at work – increasingly, people want greater control over the hours and location of work, provided outputs are delivered, rather than reduced hours which currently often lead to low pay and poor prospects. This is not just because more women are working and men are becoming more active fathers. It is also because flexibility suits students and the increasingly ageing population.

The report also shows that pioneering employers are responding by transforming their work culture. Flexitime and home working are particularly popular and new technology is enabling companies to become more innovative in how they organise work. In return, employers are benefiting from better staff engagement and loyalty, meeting increasing customer demand for 24/7 products and services, and raising productivity.

The right to request flexible working for parents of young children, introduced by this government and which will be extended to carers in April, has been a welcome start to changing workplace culture. Today's report shows that demand for flexibility is now wider than ever before but many people are not aware that they are entitled to it. 60% of people say they had not seen any information about jobs where flexible working practices were available.

In order for everyone to benefit from a 'new deal' at work, the EOC want to see a fresh approach, with more employers learning from the best:
* Employers opening up a conversation with their staff about how they would like to work as well as telling them about what is currently on offer, and training their managers in delivering it.
* Flexibility put at the heart of the Government's strategy to improve productivity and increase people's use of their skills. For example, adult careers advice and Jobcentre Plus could do more to match people with flexible working.
* To help everyone have the confidence to engage in that conversation, an extension of the current statutory right to request flexible working to everyone.

Jenny Watson, Chair of the EOC said:"Work just isn't working for many people any longer. Far too many people burn out, trade down or drop out altogether. Millions of people are working below their skill level in order to have a life outside the office. Failing to rethink the way we've traditionally organised work is a chronic waste of talent and investment in education, at a time when Britain needs to invest heavily in skills to maintain its competitiveness globally.

"People are realising that jobs don't have to come at the expense of seeing their children, learning a new skill, or being involved in their community. Nor do they have to be packed like sardines onto a rush hour train or waste hours sitting in traffic jams just trying to get to the office. With half the working population wanting change, we've reached a critical mass and delivering a new deal for Britain's workers could radically transform the way we work.

"The benefits of flexibility are a two-way street. Some pioneering employers are leading the way using technology and better management to make a difference. They have changed their work culture and report better staff engagement and increased productivity as a result. But it's crucial for both our economic survival and individual well being that more follow their lead and embrace a new approach."

Miles Templeman, Director General of the Institute of Directors said:“Employers large and small must continue to innovate and equip themselves to face future challenges. Having the best people, who are well motivated, highly productive and able to deal with an increasingly global business environment is vital. Innovative working practices have to be seen as a vital part of the overall solution.”

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