UK workers shun nine-to-five culture

An unprecedented and growing number of British professionals have adopted flexible working, whether it be job sharing, flexi-time or working from home, according to a new survey.

In one of the biggest ever studies on work places and practices in Britain, professionals were shown to be shunning the traditional nine-to-five job experience, for something more convenient and less regimented.

The study, sponsored jointly by the Department of Trade and Industry and Acas, reveals the number of people has nearly doubled; up 28 per cent from 16 per cent in 1998.

According to the findings, the growing trend reflects the increasing number of small business owners and ‘managers’ demonstrating a greater understanding of employees' responsibilities outside work.

Six years ago, an overwhelming 84 per cent of bosses said it was up to the individual to balance their work and family responsibilities, but that number has now shrunk to 65 per cent. A further 55 per cent of employees believe that their managers are sympathetic to a work-life balance.

The Government declared yesterday that the workplace exposé represents “a sweeping change in the way that employees balance work and family responsibilities.”

The employment minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, said yesterday the picture emerging from the survey was “one where people have more choice and control over their working lives.

“We have long argued that flexible working opportunities benefit everyone: employers, employees and their families, and today's findings show that these arguments have been embraced in the modern workplace. “

The uptake of flexible working was a trend that was embedded in British workplaces, which will continue apace, even in a tighter labour market, the minister told The Guardian.

He explained how the combination of an ageing population and a declining birth rate would mean employers would need to continue accommodating the needs of their workers.

The survey also showed that despite the Government’s best efforts to encourage workers to belong to a Union, smaller businesses were shunning the initiative.

The decline, most evident in businesses with less than 25 workers, was balanced in the survey by membership rates for workers of larger ventures finally levelling off. This marked a slight victory for the Government, in light of plummeting Union membership rates throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Elsewhere in the survey, there was little change in the number of workplaces where women are under-represented in management, with an improvement of just one per cent over the last six years.

More positively for female professionals, 73 per cent of workplaces now practice equal opportunities policies; up from 64 per cent in 1998, and cover a range of criteria like an individual’s sexual orientation, religion and age.

And in light of the slight increase in the number of entrepreneurs summoned before employment tribunals, nearly 90 per cent of British businesses now operate formal procedures for handling grievances.

A much more detailed picture of Britain’s appetite for flexible working, including working from home, will be available when the full report is published next year.


6th July 2005

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