Stress out: the staff who take their work home

In the third of our series on workplace benefits, Esther Shaw reports on family-friendly hours and other flexible arrangements

Homeworking? It's for those people watching daytime TV in their pyjamas.

Homeworking? It's for those people watching daytime TV in their pyjamas.

Flexible working arrangements used to be something of a joke, but those days have long gone. The demands of the workplace have changed and, at the same time, a better work-life balance has become something we all aspire to.

As families - those with single parents and where both partners are in paid employment - struggle with childcare and other domestic issues, flexible hours are becoming important.

And it's not just parents who need to work from home. Several million employees in the UK are currently juggling their daytime job with responsibilities as carers for elderly or disabled partners or relatives.

The good news is that the old-fashioned culture of long and rigid hours in the office is giving way to a range of flexible working options. A growing number of organisations now offer job share and homeworking arrangements, for example. The change has been made easier by a government drive to put family-friendly policies centre stage.

In April 2003, a law was passed that gave parents of children under six (and of disabled children under 18) the right to ask to work flexibly. This request can cover a change to the number of hours worked, start and finish times, or even a switch to working at home.

By law, employers are required to "seriously consider" the request. If it is turned down, there must be a valid reason for the decision.

Last December, the Government published a 10-year strategy for childcare, under which maternity leave will be extended from six to nine months by 2007. The flexible working rights granted to parents will be extended to all workers.

And last week, Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Education, pitched in with a £680m proposal to keep schools open from 8am to 6pm to help parents working outside the home.

Against this background, companies are reviewing their working practices. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), four in 10 employers now do more than the legal minimum in granting requests from staff to change their hours or operate from home.

And employers increasingly recognise that flexible working can engender greater staff loyalty, the CIPD adds. A recent study from the campaigning charity Working Families found that it was the most effective way to reduce absenteeism.

Today, a quarter of Britain's workforce takes advantage of flexible arrangements, but not all employers have embraced the concept. Many express concern about the cost and inconvenience. Yet "flexi" is hardly a new phenomenon and has benefited thousands of businesses. There's no reason why it can't be considered, but what exactly does it involve?

Flexible working has become a catch-all phrase that includes many different contractual arrangements between workers and employers. Many of us will be familiar with flexi-time, where staff agree to work a minimum and maximum number of hours each month but come and go as they please.

An alternative is to try to agree a set number of hours with your employer over the course of a year - a deal known as "annualised hours". This can be particularly useful if you have a job with seasonal variations.

The most common form of annualised hours is "term-working", where your employer agrees to give you unpaid leave during school holidays. Although you're off work for long periods, you can arrange to have your salary paid each month.

Another flexible alternative is to compress your working time - doing your contractual hours in four days as opposed to five, for example.

Job sharing lets two people split the hours and responsibilities of one job between them. Each receives the same pro rata salary. But if you opt for this arrangement, be aware that both your state pension entitlement and any private pension provision will be affected.

"You can negotiate on benefits [such as holidays or health insurance]," says Jonathan Swan of Working Families, "but your pension will be in proportion to your hours and your salary."

Teleworking (where you work from home, maintaining contact with colleagues, customers or a central office via a phone and computer) has been made much easier thanks to high-speed broadband.

If you choose to work alone, you must be prepared for the isolation. Keep boundaries between your working and private life and make sure they don't become blurred. Otherwise, you could find yourself back working the sort of long hours you left the office to avoid.


Jayne Woolmore, an executive secretary for Skipton building society, has been sharing a job for the past decade.

The arrangement has made all the difference in allowing the 41-year-old mother of two to spend more time with her young children.

Jayne began job sharing just after the birth of her first child, Eleanor, who is now 12.

"I knew I wanted to go back to work," she says. "But working full-time after my daughter was born became too much. So I approached my employer, who was willing to be flexible."

Jayne then set up a job share with colleague Sue Robinson.

"Sue works two days a week and I work three. We both have two children and have been job sharing for so long that we've built up a real partnership. Benefits and holidays are divided between us pro rata."

New technology has made Jayne's job much easier in recent years, especially when it comes to the handover.

"I love having two extra days at home to give my children individual attention," she says.

The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

    Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

    Laura Norton: Project Accountant

    £50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?