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Flexible working time and work life balance

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 4542 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The male breadwinner model, which puts an emphasis on the household as the woman’s sphere and the workplace as the man’s sphere, no longer defines how most families divide labor between men and women (Crompton 2006). The increased participation of women in the labor market, along with technological change and globalization, have dramatically changed the structure of the labor market, and have most likely changed how workers balance their life between work and family. (copy)

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Good as well: flexible working practices brought upon by an increasing need for work-life balance which have been largely if not wholly due to external forces that are beyond the control of organisations. However, all organisations operate and seek to support in the environments that are continuously subjected to change. These changes can have a marked effect on an organisation, its performance, even its survival. Meanwhile, time after time, organisations react to the drivers of change by taking short-term or knee jerk decisions that predictably have an effect on the way work is organised.

What is work life balance?

“Work life balance is employment based on emergent new values, which doesn’t discriminate against those with caring or other non- work responsibilities, and which provides an opportunity for people to realize their full potential in work and non work domains”. Lewis (1996:1)

According to a recent study by Georgetown University, employee stress from trying to find time for their children correlates with decreased productivity and increased absenteeism. The study found that unplanned absences were costing some businesses nearly $1 million a year.

Thus, HR specialists are trying in many attempts to help employees reach work-life balance by introducing new working strategies. One of these strategies is flexible working time. Flexible scheduling allows employees to adjust the time or place their work as completed. It can mean compressing 40 hours into four days, starting and ending workdays at different times, or doing some of your work at home. The reason may be as simple as wanting to better manage a long commute. Some parents choose to arrive at work later so they can take their children to school. Some companies may offer these options to retain female employees who might consider leaving their jobs after having children. But is it really that flexible time always helps to achieve work-life balance? Does employee prefer to manage his/her time or like to be committed to a specified timing because he/she may not be able to manage time, which leads to a more mess and imbalance? And which of these two options will increase the productivity?

This research brings together material from diverse sources to provide an overview of recent research, current thinking and future debates on the key work-life policy issues, especially those which affect organizations in Bahrain.

To build an informed policy debate on work-life balance issues in Bahrain, more Bahraini based research is essential.

Chapter Two – Literature review:

2.1 Work-life balance:

The (phrase) Work-Life Balance was originated as a consequence of the Family Friendly Policies that were introduced in the 1970s and 1980s in UK, primarily as a retention tool for women, and since then it has become a widespread concept. With this, they were for women and about women. To avoid the pitfall of being viewed as discriminatory and the need to bring a more, all-inclusive significance into these policies, they were renamed as work-life balance policies. Since the 1970’s, the UK Government has introduced several governmental changes to strengthen and to protect the rights of workers. In response to these changes, demands from employees as also from customers who want a larger “business window” a large number of organizations in the UK, have today introduced varied and innovative Work-life balance policies. The Government continues to play a key role in ensuring that (WLB) continues to gain momentum through legislation, financial incentives and support and promotion of best practices (Milburn, 2003).

** DTI (2003) Work and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice’ Department of Trade and Industry, London.

2.2 What is Work life Balance?

Meanwhile, the definition of ‘Work-life balance is about people having a measure of control over when, where and how they work (DTI, 2003). This is achieved when an individual’s right to a fulfilled life inside and outside paid work is accepted and respected as the norm, to the mutual benefit of the individual, business and society.’

work life balance emphasizes on the adjustment of working patterns, and it focuses on the need for everyone, regardless of age, race or gender, to find a pace (that suits them) to help them combine work with other responsibilities or aspirations. Work-Life Balance has an important underlying implication that Work-Life Balance is for everyone, not just for mothers or families and is critical in not just developing policies but also in reviewing them and their impact on employees (Alexandra, 2003), that’s why the idea that employers should enhance flexibility has been promoted recently.

Within the UK, The Prime Minister Tony Blair launched the Work-Life Balance campaign, in March 2000. The aim of the campaign was in two-fold. First, to convince employers of the economic benefits of work-life balance (this was done by the employment of real-life case studies). Secondly, to convince employers of the need for change (DTI, 2003).

Work-life concerns are simply added to an organization’s bundle of practices that are designed to benefit competitive strategy – to aid attraction and retention in tight labor markets, reduce high levels of absenteeism, and establish long-term relationships with employees based on commitment and productivity.

2.3 The need for a work-life balance

As individuals, are all expected to play multiple roles, i.e. employee, boss, spouse, parent, child, sibling, friend, and community member. In turn, each of these roles imposes demands on us that necessitate time, energy and commitment to fulfill. The conflict of work-family or work-life happens when the cumulative demands of these many work and non-work life roles are miss-assorted in some respect so that participation in one role is made more difficult by participation in the other role (Duxbry and Higgins, 2001). Duxbry and Higgins conceptualize work-life conflict to include areas such as, role overload (RO) (having too much to do and too little time to do it in) as well as role interference (when incompatible demands make it difficult, if not impossible, for employees to perform all their roles well).

Additionally, role interference can be divided into two factors: family to work interference (FTW) and work to family interference (WTF). With the first case, interference occurs when the roles and responsibilities of the family hinder the work related responsibilities (i.e., a family illness prevents attendance at work; conflict at home makes concentration at work difficult). With the latter case (WTF) interference occurs when work demands make it harder for an employee to fulfill their family responsibilities.

2.4 Background to Flexible Working Rights

In April 2003 employees in the UK were first given the right to request flexible working. In the modern work environment, the introduction of these new rights helped to point up that traditional working patterns could no longer be sustained by employers and that there was a need to address the work/life balance. Organizations – already facing skills shortages – would find recruitment and indeed retention made harder if a more flexible approach to working patterns was not adopted.

Suite of Rights

The flexible working rights which were established were significant in themselves, however, they formed part of a new set of rights which sought to create a more ‘family friendly’ work environment. Until April 2003, individual parental rights were primarily limited to maternity leave for a new mother giving her the right for a leave, the right for parents to take emergency time off for dependants (not just limited to children) and to take up to 13 weeks’ parental leave, which had been introduced in December 1999.

In April 2003, however, the following new rights were introduced:

The right to maternity leave was extended considerably so that, for the first time, all employees (regardless of their length of service) were entitled to 26 weeks’ maternity leave and those with more than a year’s service acquired the right to 52 weeks’ maternity leave.

Fathers also gained rights, albeit limited to 2 weeks’ paternity leave, on the birth of their child.

Extraordinary new rights were given to those seeking to adopt, with statutory adoption leave and statutory paternity leave, giving rights reflecting maternity and paternity leave, for adopting parents.

It is significant (and perhaps indicates the extent to which this Government is keen to support working parents) that the next item on the flexible working agenda, announced in 2004, is the possibility of allowing flexible maternity leave between parents; instead of only a mother having the right to take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave, there is the vision of some limited swapping of the right to maternity absence as between the mother and father of the child.

Before these revolutionary new rights in 2003, the ability of any employee to work flexibly or indeed part-time was very much limited to circumstances where an employer agreed through good will or good practice to such an arrangement. Critics of the flexible working rights argue that the new provisions have not moved this position forward because all they provide is a right to request and to have that request considered seriously. Before they existed, however, there were only two circumstances where flexible working patterns of any sort could be enforced:

Firstly, where an individual was a disabled employee and could demonstrate that some form of adjustment to their working hours or duties and working arrangements amounted to a reasonable adjustment which their employer was grateful to make in accordance with the disability discrimination.

Secondly, and only as a way of challenging a refusal, female employees could argue that in respect of part-time working, a refusal to agree to part-time work was contrary to the sex discrimination. This is on the basis that it can be shown that a practice within an organization prohibiting part-time working (or indeed a practice allowing only full-time working) operates to the greater disadvantage of women than men and thus falls within the concept of indirect sex discrimination.

Why was it Implemented?

The history that reflects the flexible working laws introduced in 2003 goes back a number of years. In June 2001, the UK Government established a Task Force whose role was to consider specifically the issues which working parents face; in particular the Task Force was to consider how to assist parents in meeting their desire for flexible working patterns, whilst at the same time remaining compatible with the need for business efficiency and requirements.

The establishment of the Task Force was against the background of a voluntary campaign and Government funding to encourage employers and businesses to address work/life balance issues. In March 2000, the Prime Minister launched a campaign known as the Work/Life Balance Campaign with a view to persuading organizations to improve the lot of working parents in such a way as to nevertheless continue achieving business and customer requirements. The original campaign was not in fact focused upon parents, but looked at all employees regardless of whether they had caring responsibilities or not. It was significant, however, in recognizing that the attitude, culture and philosophy of workers had moved on considerably from the ambitious society of the 1980s and 1990s.

According to information from the Department of Trade and Industry, the Work/Life Balance Campaign was accompanied by a test fund which, in the run up to the introduction of legislative requirements and legal obligations, encouraged employers to introduce and develop innovative working arrangements. By helping to fund consultancy support, projects were undertaken with work/life balance in mind, including the introduction of new working patterns as well as specific recruitment projects. Over the three years from 2000 to 2003, the Work/Life Balance Challenge fund benefited employers to the sum of £10.5 million.

In its report on 19 November 2001, the Government Task Force made nine recommendations to the Government, many of which were translated to form the basis of the new legislation.

In addition to the campaign and the recommendations of the Task Force, the Government had also informed itself of the views of the working population, through the issue of a green paper: Work and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice. This consultation paper was issued in December 2000. The responses to the consultation paper made clear that whilst improving maternity and indeed paternity rights (such as parental leave) would be of benefit to working parents, by far the most popular and indeed significant benefit was improved flexibility to meet childcare and work responsibilities. Armed with these responses and the Task Force report About Flexible Working, the Government tabled parts of the Employment Act 2002 which resulted in implementation of significant new flexible working rights, implemented through an amendment to the Employment Rights Act 1996 and two sets of regulations.

Demographic Changes

Demographic changes have played a significant role in impressing the need for organizations to develop more varied and non-traditional working patterns:

With the ageing population, many more people are finding that they have caring responsibilities such as looking after elderly or disabled relatives.

As we are all living longer, more individuals are becoming disabled, according to the Employers’ Forum on Disability in UK.

With the move away from extended families and as people become more mobile, so they are not living close to relatives and parents, those with children are less able to rely on grandparents or other relatives to help with child care responsibilities.

The percentage of women who have taken up employment has increased.

The trend for life expectancy, although different for men and women, has increased by roughly five years.

The Business Case

So much for the demographic changes, but there are also business benefits for organizations which offer new or more flexible working arrangements, particularly given the high skills shortage in the UK and more older people who themselves are keen to work but may prefer or indeed require more flexibility.

Employers may be surprised to know that for some individuals the ability to work flexibly is more important than the pay or benefits that a particular job may provide. In an online poll carried out by Reed Recruitment in conjunction with the Department of Trade and Industry in UK as part of its Work/Life Balance Campaign 2002, a third of those polled (out of 4,000 people) expressed a preference for having the opportunity to work flexibly, rather than having a £1,000 pay rise (Reed.co.uk). Over 43% of the men who responded to the poll selected flexible working as the benefit they would most look for in a new job, compared to 13% who would look for a company car, and 7% who considered gym membership to be the priority.

Adopting family friendly and flexible working policies has the following advantages for employers:

Retention of staff is the key to the stability and knowledge of the organization. Knowledge is lost when somebody leaves and networks are broken. This can be critical in a small business where major customers can go elsewhere when an employee, who understands their needs and whom they trust, moves on to a competitor.

The typical recruitment costs of replacing an individual have been estimated at an average £3,500, ranging from £1,000 for an unskilled manual worker to over £5,000 for a professional employee. These costs do not take account of the investment made in training (both formal and informal training) which is lost if skilled employees leave the workplace, as well as lost time and experience. Consequently, it makes commercial sense to try and retain staff rather than recruit new staff [Labor Turnover, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, October 2000].

Savings in absenteeism. Absenteeism costs approximately £500 per employee a year. A quarter of employers rank home and family responsibilities as one of the five main causes of sickness absence.

Employers that help their employees to balance their work with their family lives see improvements in business performance (Cheibl, L. and Dex.S, 1998). It enables businesses to benefit from a greater contribution from the workforce and maximizes the contributions that working parents are able to make to their employers.

A strong track record in work/life balance can be a selling point to potential employees who consider that such a balance is important.

Many employers sees benefits from flexible working and leave arrangements including:

improved employee satisfaction and motivation

improved retention rates and recruitment benefits

increased employee productivity

reduced labor turnover

improved reputation

Reduced absenteeism.

All of which provide improved business results.

After having introduced the new rights for parents in 2003, a survey was conducted and analysis of how successful the new rights have been within the UK (Employment Relations Occasional Papers: Results of the First Flexible Working Employee Survey, Tom Palmer, Department of Trade and Industry). The outcome of that report demonstrated that one million parents had made requests for flexible working. That is only a quarter of those who are eligible, meaning that three million who could have made such a request have not done so. Perhaps significantly, it seems that employers when faced with such requests do not have any major difficulty acceding them. 80% of those employees requesting flexible working had their request agreed. The shortfall of those pursuing their new rights and the three million who have not, may be explained by the survey’s statistics which demonstrate that 52% of parents who are eligible are unaware in the first place that they have the right to request flexible working.

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The Government has declared an intention to extend these new rights beyond parents with children under six. However, the success and significance of new rights such as these can only be measured when individuals become fully aware of their abilities. The fact that 10% of employees without dependent children were reported in the survey to have requested flexible working, suggests that there is a need on the part of individuals without children to gain this benefit. In organizations where requests were made, despite that individuals did not always have the statutory right, the reasons for the change warrant examination:

13% quoted work life balance

11% cited family responsibilities

11% simply because they wanted more free time (i.e. voluntary and not driven by childcare or family pressures)

7% because of travel arrangements

7% to meet the caring needs of relatives or friends

6% due to health problems.

As these statistics demonstrate therefore, an organization’s ability to offer flexible working arrangements provides a significant benefit to an extremely wide pool of actual or potential employees.

This may, however, just be the tip of the iceberg. What the survey does not analyze is how many individuals simply do not pursue a request. In the Equal Opportunity Commission’s Annual Report for 2003-2004 (available at www.eoc.org.uk) four in ten mothers, one in ten fathers and one in five carers have left an organisation or refused a job because of caring responsibilities. This suggests that there are many who do not have confidence in their organization’s willingness to accommodate them.

What Can be Requested?

The statutory request for flexible working, which must be in writing and must be dated (Regulation 4), can request a variation to the individual’s contract in one of the following ways:

a change to the hours of work;

a change to the time when the work is required (for example, the same eight hour day but an early start and early finish);

a change to the place of work as between home and place of business.

The statutory provisions do not go beyond these fairly focused and limited flexible arrangements. Nothing within any of the provisions appear to prevent the employee seeking a change to more than one of the above, for example to reduce hours and work from home.

What other scholars said:

Given the competing demands of work and life, it is unsurprising that many employees experience conflict between the two domains. Work-life conflict can affect any employee but people with care responsibilities are more likely to suffer most because of the greater demands on their time. Research has tended to find that mothers, particularly those with young children, are less satisfied with their work-life balance than other groups of workers (Saltztein et al. 2001).

Feelings of work-life conflict have been associated with, psychological and physical health problems; marital and family relationship problems, increased sickness absence and decreased life and job satisfaction (Evans and Steptoe 2002; Crouter et al. 2001;Westman 2001)

The effects of work-family conflict on organizational outcomes have been well documented in the management and psychology literatures. According to Netemeyer, Brashear‑Alejandro, and Boles (2004), work-family conflict is an inter-role conflict where job expectations interfere with family-related responsibilities.

The detrimental effects of work- family conflict on job satisfaction, employee retention, and psychological well-being have also been addressed (Brough, and Kalliath 2004).

Related to work-family conflict, identity theory suggests individuals possess certain life roles (i.e., work-family roles) that may conflict, thus creating a “spillover” effect (Thoits 1991).

When role clash occurs, the more valued role (i.e., family) takes precedence, and individuals are likely to instill protective measures to safeguard valued roles against potential damage.

According to identity theory, these defense mechanisms may be implemented at the risk of abandoning the conflicting role(i.e., work) (Thoits 1991). Consistent with this notion, a study based in the retail sales industry indicates that when salespeople encounter conflict between two salient roles (work and family), they tend to withdraw from the less salient work role through higher turnover in order to maintain the more valued family role (Netemeyer, Brashear‑Alejandro, and Boles 2004).

Work-life conflicts are seen to have a potentially detrimental impact on productivity, personal effectiveness, marital relations, child-parent relationships and even child development (Gornick and Meyers, 2003).

A review of the role conflict literature indicates that studies proposing links between work-family conflict and job satisfaction have also witness a dramatic increase. For instance, the majority of studies have shown that work-family conflict is associated with decreased levels of job satisfaction (Adams and King 1996).

Employers do realize that employee stress is partially due to the challenges in balancing work and family (Matusicky 2003). A good balance between work and family life has been said to benefit employers, as it is linked to better life satisfaction and subsequently to workers being more productive, creative and efficient (Zelenski, Murphy and Jenkins 2008).

Numerous studies have demonstrated that employees who are dissatisfied with their jobs are more likely to engage in organizational deviance behaviors such as working less hard, absenteeism and company theft (Lau, Au, and Ho 2003). A recent meta-analysis on the effects of ethical climate suggests that job dissatisfaction poses a significant threat to organizations due to its intensifying effects on dysfunctional behavior (Martin and Cullen 2006).

Drew et al.,(2003) believes that a number of factors might encourage employers to adopt policies to promote work-life balance. These include the business case for such polices such as a lower staff turnover, reduced absence and improved productivity, as well as changes in human resource management and changes in technology that enhances opportunities for working from home. Another key factor is increasing demand for greater flexibility from employees.

All reviewed research results show positive effects of flex-time on the work-family balance. Flex-time workers with children under the age of 18 report “lower levels of time pressure”, and a “higher level of job and life satisfaction” than do their non-flex counterparts (Zuzanek 2000). Flexible work hours are associated with more satisfaction with family life (Jekielek 2003) and a reduction in perceived time stress (Tausig and Fenwick 2001). Analysts Comfort, Johnson and Wallace (2003) also found flex-time to be related to increased job satisfaction, increased satisfaction with pay and benefits, and a reduction in paid sick days. All of these relationships appeared slightly stronger for women.

Over one-third of Canadian employees report having flex-time schedules (Comfort, Johnson and Wallace 2003).The proportion of those who reported having flex-time arrangements is higher among men than among women and is mainly found in small establishments, non-unionized settings, low-skill occupations, retail and commercial industries.

A research on flexible working in Ireland has found these arrangements are more common in the public than in the private sector and that, women make use of them more frequently than men (Drew et al., 2003). Gender and the public/private sector distinction are two key factors in the analysis of the effects of flexible working.

The measure of work-life conflict captures tensions between work and family commitments. In this research I want to investigate whether flexible working arrangements facilitate a work-life balance and reduce work pressure.


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