Different ways of working
There are many different types of measures that can assist employees in achieving a satisfactory balance between work and other aspects of their lives. They will not necessarily be the same for every person or workplace. This section looks at some of the working hours, leave arrangements, and other forms of benefits that can be negotiated - and some UNISON examples of where it has worked.
What hours do you work?
UK workers still work the longest hours in Europe, despite the introduction of the Working Time regulations, so there is scope for negotiating reductions to the working week.
Some facts about the public sectorThe average working week for full-time workers in the UK is 39.6 hours. For full-time men the average is 40.9 hours a week, and for women the average is 37.5 hours (News Earnings Survey, April 2002).
In April 2002 Scottish local authority workers saw a reduction to a 37-hour week, and the agreement in 2001 covering school teachers in Scotland introduced a 35-hour week with a phased reduction to 22.5 hours per week class contact time. In England and Wales teaching unions have been pushing for a 35-hour week too. While the government has recognised the need for a reduction in teacher workloads, it has been reluctant to concede a 35-hour week, and an announcement following negotiations on workloads is expected soon. Other hours reductions in the past year have been concentrated mainly in the transport sector, according to LRD's negotiators' journal Bargaining Report October 2002.
The LRD pay and conditions database PayLine has 10 local authorities where the working week is less than the national agreement of 37 hours (36 in London). The survey of UNISON branches also found that the union at Manchester City Council had negotiated a reduction in hours from 37 to 35.
Some advice on:
- Part-time work and reduced working hours
- Term-time working
- Compressed working week
- Annual hours
Part-time working and reduced hoursPart-time work is by far the most common way of balancing work and family commitments. There were 5.6 million women working part-time in the UK in winter 2001/02, according to the Labour Force Survey, and 1.4 million men.
The Work-life balance 2000: Baseline study found part-time working was the most common form of flexible working for women, used by 44%, compared to 8% of men. The survey also showed a desire for part-time work amongst full-timers, with 35% of women saying they would like to switch to part-time working, and 21% of men.
The LRD survey of UNISON branches also found part-time work to be the most commonly available form of flexible working arrangement, with 94% of respondents saying that it was available to all or some staff at their workplace. In many cases availability was subject to the needs of the organisation, but many employers had a policy of favourably considering requests to work part time.
Switching to and from part-time workNew regulations, in force from April 2003, will give parents of children up to age six the right to request to work flexibly or reduce their hours, and have their requests considered seriously by their employer.
The regulations provide a right to request a permanent change to working hours or working arrangements. However some employers already have arrangements in place that allow, or encourage consideration of, requests to work part-time either as a permanent or temporary change. In some cases this arrangement is part of a maternity policy and is limited to women returning to work after maternity leave. Almost three-quarters of respondents (73%) to the UNISON branch survey said that their employer already considered requests to return part-time after maternity leave, normally subject to the needs of the organisation.
Harrow College, for example, offers women returning from maternity leave the options of a phased return, or a return to a reduced working day, either as a short-term arrangement or as a permanent reduction. At South Nottingham College staff are allowed to reduce their hours for an agreed period of up to two years. Nearly two-thirds of respondents to the UNISON branch survey reported that voluntary reduced hours (sometimes known as V-Time), often a temporary reduction in hours, was an option in their organisations. While this may sometimes be used by parents, in some organisations the option to reduce working hours may be available for a range of reasons.At Bury MBC, for example, the benefits of the voluntary reduced hours scheme are listed as allowing:
- employees more time for personal commitments, for example, caring for children, elderly relatives or health reasons;
- employees who can no longer work full time to continue in employment;
- the reduction of hours for employees who do not wish to or who cannot afford to reduce their hours substantially, eg by job-sharing; and
- the option of reducing hours on a temporary basis, with the security of being able to revert back to full time at the end of the agreed period.
Disabled staff are permitted to reduce their hours at Nottingham Trent University, which is one of the reasonable adjustments employers have to consider under the Disability Discrimination Act.
At the London Electricity Group the V-Time scheme allows employees to reduce their current working hours by between 5-50% for a six or 12-month period after which it will be reviewed. Time off may be taken either as a reduced day, a reduced week or in a block of time, such as extra vacation of days off. Another way of reducing hours on a temporary basis for parents may be by taking parental leave in short amounts over a period of time.
It should be remembered that reductions in working hours will be accompanied by an equivalent loss of holiday entitlement, and could also affect other benefits such as pensions. The TUC Changing Times guide describes a scheme at J Sainsbury, called the Personal Retirement Plan, that allows older workers the chance to reduce their working hours and draw partially on their company pension scheme in order not to reduce their salary.
Job sharingJob sharing is where two individuals share a full-time post, although they may not both do an equal number of hours. One of the advantages for employees over part-time work is that pay and benefits are pro-rata to the full-time post.
Derbyshire Local Education Authority's job-share policy points out that job sharing "is particularly attractive to the vast number of teachers/lecturers for whom part-time service is frequently equated with scale1/L1 and a lack of promotion prospects. Job sharing may also provide an opportunity to continue working at the same level of involvement and interest at a time when the teacher/lecturer is unable or unwilling to work full-time".
Although job sharing is still relatively rare in the UK as a whole, with only 4% of employees in the Work-life balance 2000: Baseline study working in this way, it is much more common in the public sector.
Nine out of ten employers in the UNISON branch survey offered job sharing to at least some staff. However some respondents reported that although it was available in principle, often only a minority of staff actually worked in this way, and in some cases the employer was reluctant to agree to it. Solihull Healthcare UNISON branch, for example, said that it was only available "in special circumstances", and to "a very small percentage" at Dorset Ambulance Service. Some said that it was not encouraged for managers, and at Yorkshire Purchasing job share was only available to women with children.
Many local authorities and health trusts have a policy of encouraging job sharing. Nottingham City NHS Trust's policy states that the purpose of the job sharing policy is to:
- assist in the recruitment of staff;
- deploy staff in the most effective manner;
- retain staff who would otherwise leave the organisation, thereby maintaining skill levels;
- allow employees access to more senior posts, which may not be available on a part-time basis;
- provide an environment which supports flexible working arrangements; and
- allows information and guidance to be available at the outset to facilitate the effective operation of job share, which brings benefits to the organisation and allows individuals to feel valued.
The policy also states that all posts will be considered suitable for job share regardless of status or salary. To help existing staff wishing to job share to find a job-share partner, the trust maintains a job-share register.
The job-share policy of Conwy County Borough Council adds that job sharing may be useful for those nearing retirement, for whom "the opportunity to 'phase out' of employment might be welcome".
The job share scheme at Brighton and Hove City Council has the following key elements:
- all jobs should be considered for job sharing;
- job sharer's terms and conditions should contain no significant differences from those of full-time employees;
- where there is a job-share vacancy it is the council's responsibility to find a job-share partner; and
- an employee can hold more than one job-share post in the council, providing there is sufficient handover time in both posts.
As job sharers carry joint responsibility for the post, it is useful to have a period of overlap between the two job sharers for them to exchange information and plan work.
If one of the job shares leaves, it is important to ensure that the other job sharer has job security. For this reason each of the postholders should be employed under an individual and not a joint contract of employment. The remaining post holder should also be given the option to take up the full-time post if the other person leaves.
Term-time workingTerm-time working, in which staff do not work during school holidays, can be a useful option for parents of school-age children. On the other hand there are many UNISON members working in schools, in particular classroom assistants and schools meals staff, who work during the term time because that is what is available, and who may wish to work longer hours. They are also excluded from claiming state benefits during holidays, even though they are not paid. Therefore, the advice below needs to be read in the context of the important concerns UNISON holds in relation to how term-time operates in many workplaces (link to term-time working campaign).
Women are far more likely to work during term times only (8.2%) than men (1.5%), according to the Labour Force Survey spring 2002. Around 28% of women would like to work during term-times only, according to the Work-life balance 2000: Baseline study, and 22% of men expressed an interest in this working pattern.
The LRD survey of UNISON branches found that 48% of employers offered term-time working to some staff, with around half of these being local authorities that employ education support staff. Some health trusts also offer this working pattern to nurses.
UNISON's Bargaining Support guide to flexible working advises that good schemes allow term-time workers' pay to be spread out throughout the year, and not just during term time, which also has the advantage of establishing their rights as permanent employees. This avoids the risk that term-time workers might not be recognised as having continuous employment by Employment Tribunals.
Normally workers will take both their paid annual leave, together with unpaid leave, in the school holidays. But guidelines from the GMB general union recommend that where possible term-time workers should have the option of up to three days annual leave per term.
The Northern Birmingham Mental Health Trust has term-time working as one of its flexible working options, stating that staff are employed for 38 weeks throughout the year, during term-time only, the salary is paid monthly, and that service is classed as continuous for purposes of employment rights.
At the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) term-time working is an example of part-year working, which allows staff to work less than 52 weeks a year. It can be beneficial to carers of elderly people, as well as parents. The DfES also permits the option of working full time during term times and part time during the school holidays.
FlexitimeFlexitime is the most commonly used form of flexible working after part-time working, used by 24% of employees in the Work-life balance 2000: Baseline study. It is also commonly available among employers of UNISON members, at 86% of workplaces in the LRD branch survey. It was most prevalent in local authorities, where 92% have a flexitime scheme, compared to 80% of health service employers. Flexitime was the third most commonly available form of flexible working arrangement in the survey, after part time and job share.
Flexitime allows workers to vary their start and finish times. Schemes are normally characterised by the following rules:
- core hours during which staff must be at work, for example between 10am to 12am and 2pm to 4pm;
- an earliest start and latest finish time, for example 8am to 6pm (the limits the working day are sometimes known as bandwidth);
- a settlement or accounting period for calculating hours in credit or debit, commonly four weeks;
- a limit on the number of hours that can be carried over. In some schemes, having more debit hours than permitted (say 10 hours) could result in disciplinary procedures being used;
- a system for recording hours or clocking in and out; and
- some schemes impose limits on the number of days flexi-leave that can be taken one settlement period (commonly one or two).
Some recent work-life balance initiatives have focused on extending the existing flexitime scheme to give employees greater control over their working hours. At Bolton Metro council the working day was lengthened from 7am to 7pm, with an increase in the number of days that can be taken off each month to two. And at Aberdeenshire Council the working day was temporarily extended to 7.30 am to 6.30 pm to help staff avoid problems caused by local traffic restrictions.
At Northumbria Police Authority core working time under the flexitime system was abolished completely. Changes in hours can sometimes be introduced as part of a move by employers to provide longer opening hours, so it is important that union members are fully involved in discussions over proposed working arrangements.
Flexitime schemes should be available equally to part-time employees and to all grades of staff. Guidance produced by the National Joint Council for Local Government Services, Finding the balance, advises local authorities to "consider why flexitime has tended to be unavailable to part-time and front line employees". While there may sometimes be operational reasons, it could simply be a legacy of different approaches to former APT&C and manual employees.
Some respondents to the LRD/UNSION survey of branches mentioned the difficulty of including shiftworkers in the flexitime scheme. However these difficulties may not be insurmountable, and Wiltshire Police, for example, is specifically including shiftworkers in the flexible working practices.
One of the objections that employers may raise about introducing flexitime is that of providing cover for absent staff. Listawood, a firm making mouse mats in Norfolk, has resolved this problem by introducing a "buddy system" that twins people so that a person is not off at the same time as their buddy. (Creating a work-life balance - a good practice guide for employers, DfEE, September 2000).
Compressed working weekA small proportion of employees work a compressed working week, where weekly hours are worked over a shorter period, for example a four or four and a half-day week or a nine-day fortnight. Only 6% of employees in the Work-life balance 2000: Baseline study work a compressed week, and a mere 1.6% according to the Labour Force Survey for Spring 2002.
But compressed hours was the form of flexible work most in demand after flexitime, according to the Baseline study, with 40% of male employees and 30% of female respondents wanting to work in this way. Only 15% of UNISON branches in the LRD/UNSION survey said that compressed working was available where they worked. However it has been part of a pilot project at Dover District Council, and at Leeds Teaching Hospital it is one working pattern for theatre and nursing staff.
This form of working is often popular with employees who wish to have more days away from work without loss of pay. On the negative side, longer days can be more stressful for some employees and could affect performance. The National Joint Council for Local Government Services guide Finding the balance advises that "evaluation mechanisms need to be in place to check whether anticipated benefits for employees and services are actually happening".
The work-life balance project at Bristol City Council experimented with a compressed week that allowed staff to take Friday afternoon off. And at Pendle Borough Council a work-life balance agreement includes the option of working a four-day week or nine-day fortnight.
Annual hoursAccording to the definition used in the Labour Force Survey, around 4% of employees work on annualised hours contracts, in which hours are not calculated on a weekly basis, but over a year. Actual hours worked in a given day or week may vary provided that the annual total meets the contractual requirement.
The Work-life balance 2000: Baseline study shows a demand for annualised hours from 21% of employees surveyed (24% of men and 18% of women).
The LRD survey of UNISON branches found that 35% of employers have some staff working on annual hours contracts. These tend to be security staff or parks and gardens staff in local authorities.
Annualised hours contracts have sometimes been resisted by unions where employers have tried to introduce them to meet their need for production or service provision, rather than to provide any flexibility for employees, and there are dangers of annualised hours schemes lesding to worse terms and conditions where unions have not been involved in negotiations.
The TUC guide Changing Times, however, says an "annual hours systems can be innovative, productive and inclusive but their introduction should be approached with care in order to achieve mutually beneficial results".
The introduction of an annual hours scheme may also be an opportunity to reduce overall working hours, in exchange for the greater flexibility that the employer has to arrange hours during the week or year. The TUC guide includes a case study of North Manchester General Hospital where an annual hours scheme was implemented for nurses. Nurses say that the benefits of the scheme are that it has given them greater control over their lives and more opportunities for taking leave. Staff tend to consolidate time owed into blocks to be taken in the summer when patient numbers are lowest. And patients have benefited from improved care at times when more staff are needed.
It also gives the example of gardeners at Redditch Council, who were initially unhappy about plans to reduce their hours in the winter in exchange for longer hours in the summer. However they now prefer the scheme, which gives them a four day week in the winter and longer time off over the Christmas holiday, with longer hours in the summer, but with no contractors, and savings being used to create more jobs. Guidance from New Ways to Work, a charity promoting flexible working, (Negotiating change: a guide to flexible work patterns for trade unions) warns of the potential difficulties for workers with children if annual hours are implemented in such a way that make it difficult to predict working hours.
It is therefore important for unions to negotiate on how work at short notice is dealt with. Normally the number of hours rostered is less than the total number of annual hours, leaving some spare "bank" or "commitment" hours. How and when these are used can be the source of difficulties.
TeleworkWorking at home, at least on an occasional basis, can sometimes be part of a flexible working package that gives workers increased freedom over their working hours. This form of working normally involves the use of a computer, often with access to the office e-mail system, and can be known as telework.
Despite steady increases each year in the number of teleworkers, still only 7.6% of the workforce are teleworkers, or 1.9 million people. Labour Force Survey figures for spring 2002 show that 412,000 workers telework in their main job at home, a further 882,000 are home-based teleworkers who work in different places using home as a base, and nearly 600,000 are occasional teleworkers who do not normally work at home, but do so for at least one day a week.
The majority of home-based teleworkers are men (79%), as are occasional teleworkers (66%), but more than half of telework homeworkers (those who telework in their main job at home) are women. And all categories of teleworkers are most likely to be in managerial or professional jobs.
Interestingly, the Work-life balance 2000: Baseline study found the most common reasons for working at home were "to get more done/it is more efficient" (38%) and "the demands of the job" (35%). Very few gave caring responsibilities as the reason for working from home.
Around 33% of employees in the survey said they would like to work at home and 62% said they would not. However, the majority of employees (88%) expressed the view that their job could not be done from home. The UNISON branch survey found that 51% of workplaces allowed homeworking or teleworking for some staff, most commonly for senior managers. The East Lindsey local government branch reported that homeworking had recently been made available to a few staff who work far from home and at the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Ambulance service it had been offered to some staff on long-term sick leave.
Some workplaces in the survey had looked at homeworking as part of a work-life balance project. At Fife Council, for example, the council was running pilot schemes in the finance department, and at North Lanarkshire Council a pilot homeworking project was being proposed in order to rationalise the use of space, and possibly allow some premises to be sold. This followed a survey by the North Lanarkshire UNISON branch which found that working from home was the flexible working option that attracted most interest from all groups of staff, with 61% of all staff expressing an interest in working at home at least some of the time.
The work-life balance initiatives proposed at Bury Metropolitan Borough Council also included homeworking either on a permanent basis for part of their working hours, or on a temporary basis for all of their working hours. It is seen as particularly suitable for employees whose work needs sustained concentration away from the interruptions of the office, such as those carrying out research, or for disabled employees who may have difficulties travelling to and from work.
However, telework expert Ursula Huws, in her report Equality and Telework in Europe, warns against seeing teleworking as an ideal employment for disabled people. She points out that this firstly limits how we see disabled people and there is a very wide range of disabilities which cannot all be suitably addressed by teleworking. She also emphasises that: "Research on the employment needs of people with severe disabilities has shown that people who have been housebound by a disability most of their lives often have a very strong requirement to get away from the home. For people in this category, teleworking means being 'out of sight, out of mind' and serves to exacerbate existing problems, not solve them."
Huws concedes, however, that teleworking does provide useful options for some, particularly those "who have developed disabilities later in life, after they have already acquired their qualifications and competencies and have built up a secure identity in their chosen field of work."
Teleworking is not a solution to combining work with caring responsibilities, although it does cut down on time spent travelling to work, which could make life easier for parents or other carers, and allows greater flexibility over when work can be done.
There are a number of points that need to be considered before homeworking is made available to staff:
- the suitability of particular jobs for homeworking;
- the implications for office-based colleagues of homeworking by some staff;
- potential isolation from colleagues and the workplace, that can be addressed, for example, by regular telephone and e-mail contact (including by the union), by working in the office for part of the week, or by attending regular team meetings and social events;
- the provision of suitable equipment for teleworking, and insurance;
- health and safety consideration of the home workstation, including sufficient space - a risk assessment will need to be carried out where it is used regularly;
- working hours - it is important that homeworkers take suitable breaks and can switch off from their work when they have finished the day;
- training and appraisal of home-based workers should not be overlooked; and
- regular reviews of working arrangements should resolve any problems, and there should be the option to return to office-based working.
Many energy companies have large numbers of home-based and remote workers, and there are detailed policies at gas companies Centrica and Transco.
London Electricity Group has both a remote working policy and a flexiplace policy, where work is based at a main site, but staff work for some of their hours from home or a different office. Guidance for flexiplace employees concentrates on ensuring that managers and colleagues know where you are and how you can be contacted, and suggests that a buddy system could help by designating someone who will keep you informed of what is happening in the office.
BT has a long-standing homeworking agreement with the unions, which was renegotiated by the managers' union Connect in 1999. Evidence from a survey by Connect, however, raises some doubts about the potential benefits of teleworking as a way of giving workers more control over the balance between their working life and home life. It found that homeworkers tended to work longer hours - an average of 49.9 hours a week compared to the 48-hour average for other workers. Twenty-seven per cent of home-based workers said they did not usually take a break at lunchtime, compared to 23% of other workers and 41% disagreed with the idea that they had a good work-life balance compared to 37% of others. There was also a significant difference in the levels of stress experienced with 49% of home-based workers saying they suffered from stress compared with one third of others.
The union points out that the nature of the survey meant that some respondents could have defined themselves as home-based workers when they "actually worked at home in addition to their normal contractual hours. Nevertheless, the greater average hours worked by home-based workers and the discrepancy in stress between home-based workers and others may be significant."
Self-rosteringIn some industries employees have traditionally been able to organise working patterns among themselves to ensure that individual needs are met. An LRD survey in 1998 for the TUC found examples of shift-swapping, particularly in the transport sector. In some cases this may simply be occasional swapping of shifts to accommodate commitments outside work. Self-rostering, however, is a more regular arrangement where employees are given control over organising their own working patterns.
The LRD survey of UNISON branches found that self-rostering occurred at almost half of the health employers that responded, but among few other employers. Nurses were able to organise their own shifts at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, Queens Park Hospital in Blackburn, Withington Hospital in Manchester and Grimbsy health branch.
Allowing workers to organise their own shifts among themselves has sometimes been promoted as part of an initiative to improve work-life balance. At Salisbury Healthcare NHS Trust, for example, self-rostering pilots in some areas have been set up under the Improving Working Lives initiative.
One of the features of the TUC's work-life balance project with Bristol City Council was the introduction of self-rostering among library staff as a solution to unhappiness about the way managers organised rosters. Staff now have greater control over the scheduling and organisation of their work, and a greater flexibility to meet commitments outside work.
How do you take your leave?
In addition to trying to ensure that people's working week can allow them to balance work and life, it is also important to ensure that sufficient time off is available and that special leave is available for particular circumstances.
This section looks at leave and time off arrangements that help employees to balance their work and home commitments. Maternity, paternity and adoption leave is not covered here, but details of these arrangements can be found in the Bargaining section of this site.
You will find information and real-life UNISON examples on:
- Annual leave
- Parental leave
- Career breaks and unpaid leave
- Dependency leave
- Carers leave
- Pre-retirement leave
- Other forms of leave
Annual leaveThree-quarters of non-manual public sector workers enjoy a basic annual leave entitlement of 25 days or more, according to Bargaining Report October 2002, but the majority of manual public sector workers (77%), however, only get 22 days basic annual leave, and only 6% get 25 days or more. In the private sector, 28% of non-manual workers get 21 days basic leave, with 24% getting 25 days or more. The greatest number of manual workers in the private sector (46%) have 21 days basic annual leave, and 25% get 25 days or more. The basic entitlement does not include any additional service-related holidays, or the eight bank holidays a year.
British workers, along with the Dutch, have the lowest number of bank holidays of any workers in Europe. Workers in Northern Ireland have 10 days, in Italy 12 days, in Austria 13, and up to 14 in Spain and Portugal. The TUC is calling on the government to review bank holiday entitlement and to give British workers an extra three days every year.
Personalised annual leaveOne way of increasing annual leave can be through a flexible benefits package that allows employees some choice over the benefits they receive, for example medical insurance, cars, childcare vouchers or holidays. Under such schemes additional holiday can be bought, or unused holiday sold. However, staff should not be encouraged to sell holidays, particularly if it takes them below the basic entitlement negotiated by the union.
At Bury MBC one element of the work-life balance pilot project has been a system of purchasing annual leave. This gives employees the option to increase their annual leave entitlement at the beginning of the financial year by up to 10 days by reducing their salary accordingly. The reduction in salary is spread evenly over the year in either monthly, weekly or 4-weekly payments.
Employees should not be expected to use their annual leave entitlement for leave for particular purposes, such as domestic or childcare emergencies, where other time off arrangements should be negotiated. The following sections look at these in more detail.
Parental leaveParental leave gives working parents the right to take up to 13 weeks' unpaid leave for children up to age five.
The government's Work-life balance 2000: Baseline study found that 40% of employers with more than 500 employees either had, or intended to provide, benefits above the minimum rights.
Examples of paid parental leave are rare, but industry and services union Amicus-MSF has successfully negotiated payment with three employers. At the National Lotteries Charities five weeks' paid leave may be taken, with up to one week to be taken each year. It can also be taken as single days. All parents are eligible irrespective of length of service. At the Housing Corporation the first three weeks of parental leave are paid, and at Penguin Books 10 days' leave are paid. Remploy also provides 10 days paid parental leave.
In the survey of UNISON branches for this guide, only 16% of respondents were aware of their employers providing parental leave provision above the statutory minimum.
The main improvement on the statutory scheme among employers in the survey relates to the age of child leave can be taken for. At the University of Teeside parents may take leave for children up to 16 years of age, and at Falkirk Council staff may take leave up until the child's 14th birthday. At Aberdeenshire and North Lanarkshire Councils leave can be taken up until the child's 8th birthday and at Derbyshire Police it is available for children up to 7 years. At North Lanarkshire parents adopting a disabled child may take their leave entitlement up until the young person's 25th birthday (the age limit for disabled children is 18 under the statutory provisions).
At South Nottingham and Stoke on Trent Colleges leave can be taken in blocks of less than one week, and for more than four weeks' in one year. Under the government's fallback scheme 21 days' notice must be given. Shorter notice periods have been negotiated at the Department of Trade and Industry, where the minimum requirement is one week's notice for up to two weeks' leave.
One way of taking parental leave may be in the form of reduced hours over a period of time. This option is available at Wolverhampton Borough Council.
Parents working for the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) are entitled to one day's special leave with pay when their child starts school. The leave can be taken as one full day, or the equivalent hours spread over the first week.
Energy company the Lattice Group offers enhanced parental leave of between three and 24 months, to be taken as a one-off period that can be before, during or after statutory parental leave. However employees are advised that they are required to resign from the company and the employment contract will cease. On return to work employees will be offered an appropriate position at the same level as before. This type of arrangement is similar to the career break schemes offered by other employers.
Career breaks and unpaid leaveCareer breaks can be a way for employees to take a long period of time off to care for young children or elderly relatives. In some cases they can be used for study, travel or work abroad, also known as sabbatical leave, and has this has been seen by some employers as a way of attracting young people into the workforce and motivating and retaining older employees.
Career breaks or periods of unpaid leave were permitted by 72% of employers represented in the UNISON branch survey. In some universities it was only available to academics, and in other employers at managers' discretion only. At Aberdeen City Council the union rep reported it was open to "anyone applying".
Commonly career breaks are for substantial periods of up to five years, but do not necessarily give the right to return. However the better schemes guarantee the right to return to an equivalent post. At British Energy, for example, staff with a year's service can take a career break of between three months and two years, and are guaranteed re-employment at the same grade, hours and, where possible, post.
Career break arrangements should include the right to be considered first for any vacant posts on return to work within a given period of time. It is also important that the employee maintains a continuing employment relationship in order to ensure that their service is counted as continuous when they return. This can be done through keeping in contact, and often arrangements are made for keeping in touch with staff on career breaks, including forwarding of office notices. Staff may also need refresher training when they return to work.
At Hampshire Police the career break scheme revised in October 2000 states that police officers on career breaks are no longer required to resign, and therefore their allowances are reinstated when they return to work.
At Portsmouth Healthcare Trust sabbatical leave is available to staff to pursue full-time education or training or to work abroad for a period of time which will enhance his or her professional and personal development. Sabbaticals can be either with or without pay.
The National Joint Council for Local Government guide, Finding the balance, suggest that employers could consider a system of time banking or a proportionate reduction in pay whilst at work to help employees to afford to take advantage of career breaks.
Dependency leaveIn addition to the legal right to unpaid time to deal with an emergency involving a dependant, many employers provide a period of paid leave. This can come under the heading of dependency leave, family leave, compassionate leave or special leave. It can also sometimes include bereavement, although this is often a separate entitlement.
The survey of UNISON branches found that 58% of employers had a policy of paid leave for dependants, and a handful more allow paid time off on a discretionary basis depending on the circumstances.
The amount of paid leave available among survey respondents ranged from 15 days to just one day. The Health Development Agency and the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham provided 15 days paid leave, and Erewash, Islington and Rutland councils, the Derbyshire Police, South Manchester Hospital and Oxleas NHS Trust all allowed up to 10 days dependency leave a year.
The TUC's negotiating target is 10 days of paid family leave with a wide scope and wide definitions. A dependant is defined in the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) guidance on time off for dependants as "the partner, child or parent of the employee or someone who lives with the employee as part of their family. For example this could be an elderly aunt or grandparent who lives in the household. It does not include tenants or boarders living in the family home, or someone who lives in the household as an employee, for example, a live-in housekeeper."
A good policy should also make it clear that same sex partners and extended family members are covered, where the employee has significant responsibility for them. It is particularly important that workers who have caring responsibilities for elderly or disabled relatives are covered by the provision, given the increasing number of workers with such responsibilities.
Carers leaveIn addition to provision for parental and dependency leave, some employers offer longer periods of leave to deal with childcare and other caring responsibilities. This may help employees who otherwise might not be able to remain in work.
The National Joint Council for Local Government guide, Finding the balance, says that this form of leave could cover responsibilities such as:
- assisting a dependant during and after a hospital stay;
- providing support during a move to residential care or during a period of illness;
- adjusting to longer term care needs as a result of illness or accident; or
- supporting an adult or child with disabilities.
Supermarket chain Asda allows up to three months unpaid leave, regardless of job or length of employment.
Pre-retirement leavePre-retirement leave allows staff approaching retirement to reduce their working hours in preparation for retirement. It can be in the form of additional days' leave to be taken during the last year of working, or a shorter working week.
The LRD pay and conditions database, PayLine, has 18 examples of pre-retirement leave, mainly in the private sector. At electricity companies National Grid, Powergen and MEB up to 35 days' leave is available in the last year of working with one day per year of service.
At Aberdeen City Council the phased retirement scheme allows staff with ten years' continuous service to reduce their working time by one day each week for six months before they retire. Part-time staff have a pro-rata entitlement.
The TUC Changing Times guide describes the Personal Retirement Plan operated at J Sainsbury, whereby older workers can reduce their working hours and draw partially on their company pension scheme in order not to reduce their salary.
Other forms of leaveMany employers have a general "special leave" policy that can include a range of circumstances for which employees might need time off. In addition to those for caring and compassionate reasons described above, employees may need time off for study, for political or other civic and public responsibilities, for sporting activities or for interviews.
Study leave is time off given to employees to carry out education that is not necessarily related to the job, although it may be to gain a professional qualification. It is separate from agreements on workplace training that is required for the job. In some cases the leave available is limited to "approved" courses, although with the greater emphasis on learning in the workplace, this may be widened. Some policies also have specific provision concerning time off for examinations.
Some employers also grant time off for observing religious festivals and events that are not covered by weekends and statutory bank holidays.
As well as improving working hours and providing leave that helps employees to reduce the stress of fitting their working lives with their other responsibilities, there are other benefits that can be included in discussions about work-life balance.
These can include assistance with childcare provision, support for learning, or sports or social facilities. The following section outlines some of the employers and union branches that have negotiated such agreements.
Childcare provisionUNISON branches were asked in the LRD/UNSION survey if their employer made any provision for childcare, and 39% reported that they did. In a small number of universities and hospitals this was in the form of a nursery, sometimes charging a market rate and therefore not affordable to low paid workers.
Some also provided holiday playschemes. The childcare policy of Kingston Hospital NHS Trust, for example, says that the trust "will aim to provide, wherever possible and in response to appropriate demand, facilities in the school holidays that will enable children aged 5 to 13 to be cared for during the working day."
Local authorities were more likely to offer childcare vouchers or an allowance to pay for childcare. A survey published in LRD's negotiators' magazine, Bargaining Report, in June 2002 found that workplace nurseries were most likely to provided by government departments or universities and colleges. Sometimes colleges had a policy of giving priority to students, so there were few places left for staff.
Two local authorities provided nurseries - Reading Borough Council and the London Borough of Waltham Forest, with 40 places, but the council was proposing to close it.
Around half the nurseries in the survey were subsidised by the employer, with subsidies of up to 45% at the government Research Councils.
Costs to employees of childcare places are sometimes related to the age of the child, and in some cases according to salary. At Reading Borough Council a sliding scale starts at £64 per week for lower paid staff, up to a maximum of £135 per week. The cheapest daily rate in the survey was at Yorkshire Coast College where places are £10.50, perhaps as a result of the local authority subsidy that colleges receive for students' childcare.
A childcare allowance of £55 a month is paid for up to a year to women returning from maternity leave at the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, and Guildford Borough Council pays a maximum of £100 a month for one child and £170 for two children. In both cases payments are pro-rata for part-time staff.
Childcare vouchers are a cost-effective benefit given by employers that are exempt from both employer and employee national insurance contributions. This means that employees can save up to 1% on childcare costs by using vouchers even if the employer gives no additional allowance. Vouchers are available at Seeboard Energy, to a value of £25 a week and at Manweb (Scottish Power) where £30 a week is payable to full timers and £20 for part timers.
Support for learningEncouragement for learning has been high on the union agenda in the last few years with the TUC and individual unions involved in many successful union-led learning initiatives. Plans to introduce statutory rights for union learning reps from February 2003 will also give them greater powers to encourage learning through the workplace.
The UNISON branch survey found that the promotion of learning had been an element of activity on work-life balance in 18% of cases. At the Powys Police, staff are being given time off for learning, as well as support towards costs.
A number of health trusts have been promoting learning and training opportunities in different ways. At the Mersey Regional Ambulance Service computers and study manuals were bought for the main stations to allow staff to undertake learning, and the Bedford and Hertshire Ambulance Service also makes university courses available, although the union rep reports that take up has been low. At Northern General Hospital in Sheffield there is a "return to learn" programme and all staff have access to NVQ and accredited education programmes. Ashworth Hospital has been identifying staff educational needs through the learning reps.
At Aberdeen City Council an open learning computer suite has been set up at the workplace. Non-academic staff can receive a staff development allowance of £100 at Glasgow University and the UNISON branch at Manchester City Council is pushing for reskilling or training dowries.
Learning is also an integral part of a work-life balance project being piloted by the civil service union PCS and the Inland Revenue in Brighton, known as the OurTime project. One of the features of the project, supported by the TUC, is the establishment of learning centres in three area offices. Staff have free access to computers during the working day for both vocational and non-vocational courses. This has involved changing the flexitime system so that staff can carry out learning during the day and make up the time later in the evening.
The employer has also appointed a learning manager, and enabled the union learning reps to carry out their role of supporting and advising members on learning needs and opportunities.
Sports and social facilitiesTwo in five of the branches responding to the LRD/UNSION survey said that their employer provided some sort of sports or social facilities for staff. In some cases this was in the form of reduced rates at local leisure facilities. For example, Southend Health Care NHS Trust provided a discount at a gym, and Aberdeen City Council offered reduced rates for leisure facilities.
The Environment Agency Sports and Social Policy says that "it is important to provide employees with the opportunity to participate in social and sporting activities with colleagues outside of the workplace, particularly for new recruits and employees who move to other Agency locations." Employees may form sports and social clubs, with the employer paying half of subscription charges and additional funding being available from the head office. Reasonable time is available to staff for making arrangements for sport and social club events where it is not possible to do this outside of working hours.