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Work Flexibility in the European Union and United Kingdom

The work landscape changed drastically in the past few years. It has become more demanding and hectic. Competitiveness of employees is measured by their adaptability to new work trends and applications, skill and continuous update of knowledge. Long working hours, faster pace and technology blurred the boundaries between life on and off the job (Galinsky, E. 2007). According to Fagan, Hegewisch, and Pillinger (2006), “Meeting the demands of economic, social and family relationships in the 21st century requires a new and broad-ranging approach to flexible working time and work/life balance.

” The long working hours had affected the family life of employees. People are spending more time in the office than at home. The dedication to career has broken the basic tenet of family life. There is a need for employers and employees to come up with better working arrangements that fit the new lifestyle. Provision of more flexible working arrangement can bridge the gap between career and family life. New models of workplace that could accommodate to the demands of the home are needed.

McMorrow, E. ( n. d. ) added that advent of new technologies and devices such as WiFi, broadband and PDAs have made it possible to work effectively outside the office. Flexibility Defined According to Friedman (n. d. ), “flexibility is a way to define how and when work gets done and how careers are organized. ” He noted that it is a “critical ingredient” in the effectiveness of the workplace. Morris (2004) also stressed the importance of employee motivation in the productivity of the organization. Employers need to accommodate the expectations of workers who want to manage their working hours in a flexible manner.

Some of the alleged benefits of flexibility are: attract and retain valued employees, raise morale and job satisfaction, improve productivity and reduce stress or burnout. In their report, the Green Paper described flexible working as: ? better balance between working hours and the demands of life away from work ? a living wage as opposed to a minimum wage ? social dialogue and worker involvement throughout decision making ? provision of a route out of poverty through training ? greening of education to inspire social respect and responsibility

? adequate benefits for those who move in and out of the job market or change job location ? higher state pension, less dependency on private pension ? slowing economic growth and decoupling it from unsustainable consumption ? introduce a Citizens’ Income Legislation History Based on the recommendations of the Work and Parent’s Taskforce in its December 2000 report Green Paper on Work and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice (Sawyer, 2006), the United Kingdom passed a new legislation granting employees with young or disabled children the right to request flexible work arrangements from their employers.

The law created the right of employees to request for flexible time and the duty of the employers to grant such requests. It amended the Employment Rights Act 1996 by adding Part VIIIA: Flexible Working (The “Flexible Working Act”). The Flexible Working Act was brought into legal force on April 6, 2003. It allows eligible employees to request to: ? change the number of hours they work; ? change the times when they are required to work; or ? work from home (Sawyer 2006). According to Himmelweit (2007), reduction in the engagement of mothers in the labour market when they have children represents a “serious loss of skills to the economy.

” The flexible work law is the government’s response to the problems of mothers torn between their career and motherhood. It enables mothers to combine their mother roles with employment. Furthermore, giving mothers a chance to get back to the workforce reduces child poverty. TUC women’s committee member Lorene Fabian said that the greatest threats to children’s wellbeing are poverty, lack of affordable care, poor education and the long-hours culture which eats into family life (Nousratpour 2009). Flexible working arrangements not only address these concerns but also allow healthier work-life balance.

The legislation provisions were expanded in 2007 to include parents with children below 16 years old and employees with adult care-giving responsibilities (Danziger & Boots 2008). However, the dialogue for flexible work time continues. There are moves to include employees not eligible to the present law such as older workforce. According to Cebulla, Butt and Lyon (2007) the workplace may need to adapt and meet the needs of the ageing employees. This could include offering flexible working conditions that could help create a better work-life balance and pave the way to flexible retirement.

Implementation Issues Sawyer (2006) reported some of the results of the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) surveys assessing the implementation of the law. According to the survey, between April 2003 and January 2005, 14% of workers submitted requests and most were granted. Part-time options and alternative schedules were the most common flexible work arrangements requested and child care need is the most common reason for requests. About 81% of requests have been fully or partially granted.

In 2005, 80% of employees who made a request expressed satisfaction with their working arrangement. Despite these developments, the survey noted that annual growth in requests is slow. There was no significant increase in the number of requests after implementation to that prior to the enactment of the law. Some employees are not aware of the law and other eligible workers opted not to make the requests due to reservations about its impact on their careers. Pitt-Catsouphes (2005) observed flexible work may appeal to some workers and not to others because of its confusing features.

The most common reason why employees do not request for flexible time is the fear of losing their job. According to Hewlett (2009), workers who are worried about job security do not feel comfortable asking for flexible work time. Instead, they’re chaining themselves to their desks to prove they are indispensable. Between April 2003 and August 2005, 420 employees whose requests have been denied filed claims with the Employment tribunal. Four out of 10 included claims of unfair dismissal (Sawyer, 2006). Aside from job security, wage issues also affect the implementation of the law.

Levin-Epstein (2005) noted that part-time status results not only in a loss of wages but often in a loss of earning power over time. The DTI survey confirmed this belief. Report showed a significant reduction in pay of employees who availed of the flexible working arrangement. Pitt-Catsouphes (2005) also reported the lesser benefits available to part-time workers as opposed to full-time employees. In his report, he mentioned that part-time employees are covered for the following: Vacation (44%), Sick Leave (18%), Pension (34%), Health Insurance (21%), Life Insurance (18%), and Dental Insurance (16%).

Their full-time counterparts are covered for the same benefits: Vacation (95%), Sick Leave (56%), Pension (79%), Health Insurance (76%), Life Insurance (87%), and Dental Insurance (59%). Another criticism of the law is its subtlety. Sawyer (2006) described the Flexible Work Act as “light-touch legislative duty. ” While it sought to increase flexibility in UK workplaces through negotiations between employees and employers, it does not guarantee a right to flexible working arrangement. Employees have little ground to challenge their employer’s decision.

Another issue raised is that the right to request may reinforce gender inequalities through emphasis on care-giving responsibilities. Women are more likely to have requests granted but might suffer the consequences. Nicola Brewer, a former diplomat at the Foreign Office who is now chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) noted that the current legislation and regulations might hold back women’s careers and make women a less attractive prospect to employers” (Smith 2008).

The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2002) also confirmed that while part-time work provided one type of solution for some women, the cost of this solution is often high in terms of reduced income and social protection coverage, limited job opportunities and promotion prospects. To strike balance between the role of mothers and fathers, Grice (2008) reported legislative modifications allowing fathers to take up a larger proportion of parental leave after a baby is born. The period of paid leave will be raised from 39 to 52 weeks by 2010.

The first 26 weeks would have to be taken by the mother, but the father has the option to take the other half incase the mother decides to go back to work. The flexible work act also fostered resentment of workers not entitled to the law. Sawyer (2006) reported the substantive desire of employees not currently eligible in the present law to be included. Arguments that work flexibility should be made available to everyone and not just favor a certain group in the workforce is raised. Business Sector Issues and Challenges

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported positive aspects of the law in the workplace including perceived improvement in employee recruitment, morale, motivation and retention. Some also reported reduced absences and reduction in costs (Sawyer, 2006). However, negative reactions from the business sector also turned out. Some employers are worried about opening the “floodgates” to flexible working. According to Sawyer (2006), some employers are concerned that saying yes to one request will compel them to agree to all.

Hegewisch (2005) asserted that this fear is unfounded. The records show that “floodgates” have not opened. While the option for reduced hours and flexible working condition was made available, the reaction did not match the anticipated change. Instead of a radical response, it only strengthened the existing trend. Another concern of the employer sector is the possible effect of the law in the productivity of employees and added cost of implementation. Extending the flexibility work act to parents with children below 16 added another four and a half million parents to the beneficiaries.

Susan Anderson, director of human resources at the CBI, said this is a big step and the Government must give firms enough time to prepare. The impending cost of implementation and possible effect in the productivity of employees are brought up. Sylvia Tidy-Harris, who runs a company organizing after dinner and motivational speakers, described the proposals as a “nightmare. ” According to her, small businesses like hers need continuity and cannot offer the flexibility required by the law (Chapman 2008).

O’Keeffe (2007) on the other hand argued that there is very little evidence to show a relationship between the size of a business and the incidence of flexibility in the workplace. He reported that the more than 90% of respondents reported set up costs to be zero or minimal suggesting that flexibility is not limited by financial considerations. He also noted that it is not the small businesses but the mid-sized companies that find it hardest to manage employees flexibly. In the face of the financial crisis, other concerns had come up.

Business leaders asked for delay of implementation in order to give some firms time to deal with the present economic pressure (Brierley 2008). However, the government rejected their calls and pressed ahead with the legislation. Yvette Cooper, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said that the government want to help the business sector but not at the expense of the workforce in need of flexible working arrangements and support (Grice 2008). Trapp (2009) agreed with the government. He remarked that in spite economic downturn, there is strong evidence that the implementation of flexible working has more advantages than burdens.

He said flexible working can result to cost savings and more productivity which business firms need in order to cope with the recession. In terms of administrative concerns, the Confederation of British Industry reported in September 2005 that 26% of 420 senior executives surveyed reported the increased amount of time dealing with compliance-related administration as negative impact of the law to their business (Sawyer 2006). Future Directions According to Frew (2004), the UK is at a crossroads, “caught between the European and the US model – a paradox which is only serving to widen the poverty gap and drive down worker motivation.

” According to him the interpretation of flexible working in both models are “flawed” because they are founded on the market rather than the workforce. Himmelweit (2007) suggested that flexible working should be inclusive. It should be made a right instead of a privilege. In the present system, employees given the flexibility are paying for the privilege in other ways such as reduction in salary and benefits. In Toshiba’s Complete Guide to Flexible Working (2009), they emphasized how technology had revolutionized the workforce. Notebook PCs and mobile phones have enabled employees to be more productive.

According to them, work need not be contained in the office. The report also mentioned other benefits like environmental sustainability through reduction in travel which not only saves energy but increases productive time, reduction of overhead costs and elimination of wasteful paper processes. However, the report also pointed out that working from home can create its own set of problems. By bringing the stress of the workplace into the sanctity of the home, we are fostering the negative feeling that there is no escape from work.

The conflict on the benefits of implementing the legislation calls for better government direction. The government should come up with more conclusive law and provide better guidelines on its proper implementation in order to guard the interests of both the workforce and the business sector. The implementation should not end with simply monitoring the requests that were granted or rejected but should also look into all the underlying issues about the case. The law should be expanded to accommodate other workforce not covered by the present legislation.

The need for better work-life balance is a serious problem affecting not only parents but other members of the workforce as well including the ageing and those suffering from health illnesses. Other employees should also be given the option to avail flexible arrangements to address their personal needs. Employee protection should be extended to ensure balanced treatment of flexible and full-time employees. The right to flexible time should not be treated as a privilege employees need to pay for by giving up some of the benefits of the full-time job but as a duty of the employers to establish a better working arrangement for the employees.

Benefits and salaries should be monitored. Rights for promotion, retirement, trainings, advancements and other remuneration and rewards available to full-time employees should be extended the part-time workers as well. Workloads of employees who availed of the flexible arrangement should be kept to an acceptable standard to reduce work time and give them more leeway to attend to their family’s needs, the very reason the law was promulgated in the first place. Employers should guide their employees on how to maximize their time and improve productivity to maintain efficiency even outside the office.

They should be included in trainings and other advancement programs to keep nurture their competitive edge. In the same way, the law should require employees to consider the needs of the job, their coworkers, customers, and the company when proposing flexible work strategies and delivering their outputs. Accountability of flexible workers should be monitored. Employees are expected to uphold the integrity of the job regardless of where they choose to work. According to Friedman (n. d.

) “achieving successful, equitable flexibility is a shared responsibility, a partnership” between the employers, employees and the government and it can only succeed through commitment from all the parties. List of References Brierley, D 2008, ‘Flexible hours plan for parents to start on time’, The Evening Standard, retrieved 21 July 2009, <http://www. thisislondon. co. uk/standard/article-23545382-details/Flexible+hours+plan+for+parents+to+start+on+time/article. do>. Cebulla, A, Butt, S & Lyon, N 2007. Working Beyond the State Pension Age in the United Kingdom, Ageing and Society,Vol.

27, pp. 849-867. Chapman, J 2008, Flexible working for 4. 5m more parents will be a ‘nightmare’, claim business leaders, Mail Online, retrieved 21 July 2009, http://www. dailymail. co. uk/news/article-566598/Flexible-working-4-5m-parents-nightmare-claim-business-leaders. html>. Danziger, A & Boots S 2008, Memo on the Impact of the United Kingdom’s Flexible Working Act, Urban Institute, retrieved 21 July, 2009, <http://www. law. georgetown. edu/workplaceflexibility2010/definition/documents/UKFlexibleWorkingAct. pdf>.

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“We all need time off. Only the reasons differ. ” The Independent, retrieved 21 July 2009, < http://www. independent. co. uk/opinion/commentators/joan-smith/joan-smith-we-all-need-time-off-only-the-reasons-differ-872285. html> Toshiba 2009. The Complete Guide to Flexible Working. HOP Associates, Cambridge. Trapp, R. 2009, “Why flexi-work works. ” The Independent. retrieved 21 July 2009, http://www. independent. co. uk/news/business/sustainit/why-flexiwork-works-1605551. html

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