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Flexible working

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Civil Service Reform, Diversity

You may have heard in the news last week, that the Children and Families Bill extended the right to request flexible working to all employees. I am extremely proud that the majority of departments in the Civil Service already do this and I hope that this change in legislation will further support my aim to develop a more flexible, modern workplace that embraces smarter working in a variety of ways.

It is worth noting that flexible working covers a wide range of practices and working patterns; for example part-time working, working remotely and job-sharing. Personally I have found that employees working flexibly are very committed and productive. It is important that managers and team members are clear about how, when and where work can be done in the most effective and efficient way which meets business needs.

The Civil Service Reform Plan promotes flexible working and flexible working patterns and I am pleased to say that they are becoming increasingly common – for example, the proportion of people working part-time across the Civil Service has increased from around 10% in 1999 to 24% in 2013.

Flexible working can benefit the employee and the employer. For the employee, it allows them to achieve the work/life balance they want, and for the employer it can lower business costs and improve retention. I had an opportunity to reflect on this when I attended first cross Civil Service event for job sharers last month which was held at DCLG.

Cross Civil Service job-sharing event at DCLG

Speaking at the first cross-Civil Service job-sharing event at DCLG in June
Speaking at the first cross-Civil Service job-sharing event at DCLG in June

Job-sharing is something that I am extremely passionate about. I have witnessed first-hand how well it can work within my own department at DCLG. In addition to the other benefits of flexible working, managers in particular can profit from job-shares as it allows them to get two different perspectives and two sets of skills in one role.

We are therefore taking practical steps to make it easier for those interested in job sharing to find a job-share partner and Civil Service Resourcing will be launching a new fully automated job share notice board by the end of the year to enable people to do this.

I heard from the audience at the event that there is work to do to ensure that our employment practices don’t hinder opportunities for job-shares and that too often jobs are still being advertised as not suitable for job sharing without a good enough case being made to justify this. It is my belief that most jobs can be done well as job-shares – with two dedicated people working closely together to deliver one set of objectives.

More information on job sharing

There are already a number of job share partnerships across the Civil Service doing challenging and interesting roles and you can find out more about some of them by going to the job-sharing blog. I would like to hear from other people who are job sharing about how this works for you, or from line managers of job sharers about their experiences. I’d also like to hear from people who would like to job share but aren’t about any barriers that have made it difficult for you to do this.

I am committed to promoting equality of opportunity and see job sharing as one important way of making this a reality. I look forward to hearing your views.

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  1. Comment by Unfair for part time posted on

    Part time workers in the civil service are put under far more pressure under the current reporting system, which is discriminatory. Already this year some very good staff have been given a box 3, meaning no bonus and no 1% pay rise. In the cases I have seen, the reasons given were ridiculous - quote at a meeting 'it is no longer good enough to just do a good job' and have had to go to grievance, stressing out staff who would otherwise be concentrating on doing their work. We now have a timetable of 8 weekly reviews for all staff, which is extremely time consuming for all concerned.
    Part time staff are compared to their full time colleagues in every way, which is unfair. Yes, it is good that part time and flexible time has been in place in the Civil Service for some time, but the Department's senior managers should hang their heads in absolute shame at the effect the reporting system has had on staff morale. No efficient private firm would spend so much time, effort and money on such a ridiculous and unfair system

    • Replies to Unfair for part time>

      Comment by Alison Stanley, HR Director CS Employee Policy posted on

      Thanks for your comment. The aim of the performance management system is to encourage open and honest discussion between the employee and line manager. This enables both to be clear about expectations and enables them to discuss issues informally as they occur. The performance management policy is very clear that objectives set for part time members of staff must reflect the hours they work. This should ensure they are under no additional pressure compared to full time staff or face any type of disadvantage on the basis of their working pattern. Some concerns from part time colleagues were also raised at a recent event with Sir Bob. At his request, we are actively working with colleagues in departments to ensure performance management is working well for part time employees, recognising both their performance and development.

      • Replies to Alison Stanley, HR Director CS Employee Policy>

        Comment by Andrew posted on

        It also fails staff with disabilities and older staff as well as P/T workers; every year our stats show it. But then, it was never meant to be fair, just like the big banks and megacorps that designed this sort of system. It is designed to save money and spread fear.

  2. Comment by Unfair for part time posted on

    amendment to above, by box 3 I mean the 'must improve' mark. In many cases the managers have been unable to say what could actually improve. Equality of opportunity? Until the Appraisal system is changed, that will not be the case.

    • Replies to Unfair for part time>

      Comment by Fed up posted on

      Strangely enough, I'm a part time worker (in the Home Office) and I've also been put in the lower 10% category with no proper explanation or warning. However, unlike Sir Bob's assertions a few weeks ago that the markings were guided and not forced, we were all told that each unit HAS TO meet the relevant quotas of 20/70/10. I'll repeat, HAS TO. I wrote to my managers exactly a week ago for an explanation and have still not even received a reply, not even the courtesy of an acknowledgement. I used to think the Civil Service was a realtively caring organisation compared to others. No longer the truth I'm afraid and expecially sad as we are being told that this is "Respect Week"........

  3. Comment by Charlotte Hickman posted on

    It's brilliant that you are a passionate supporter of job-shares. I think there is more than needs to be done both practically (e.g. jobshare networks, matching service, guidance on how to assess performance etc) and culturally in order to effect a shift in people's attitudes. Too many managers dismiss the idea as unworkable without having first hand experience and without having to justify their decisions.

  4. Comment by Corin Robertson posted on

    Great to see a focus on flexible working! We've come a long way on this as a Civil Service, with organisations increasingly recognising the strong business case for making it work. The employee benefits are clear, but we could do better at spelling out the business benefits, including: access to a wider talent pool, so access to the best possible talent; better policy-making through a more diverse workforce; higher productivity, as people feel valued for who they are (regardless of their working pattern); better organisational reputation (as a civil service, we represent the people of the UK, so we should represent their diversity); better staff retention (which saves money) and (hopefully) fewer legal challenges. There are a few operational challenges (it won't work in all jobs, but it can work in most), but I suspect that most of the remaining barriers are cultural. In the FCO we're working to break those down - and we're getting there!

  5. Comment by Katy Willison posted on

    As a job sharer working in DCLG, I can wholeheartedly support what Bob is saying. Job sharing offers huge personal benefits: I can take on challenging and interesting roles, whilst also ensuring that I have a good work life balance. It also offers great organisational benefits as my employer gets the energy, creativity and resilience of two people for the price of one. For me, it's been the key to managing my career in the civil service. While it's undoubtedly the case that we need to make sure that the whole civil service understand and values the benefits, I have found most line managers to be open-minded and willing to engage, as long as I have made the time to explain the benefits to them. That said, we need to keep up the momentum that the event has kicked off in terms of promoting more networks and practical approaches to help people think about job sharing as an option for them. DCLG is just at the beginning of this journey - we hope to learn from others and hopefully share our lessons back in return

  6. Comment by Nicola Armao posted on

    Really agree with Charlotte - and if all industries followed suit (some banks such as Barclays/Lloyds appear to be) we'd have a lot more bright, dynamic and creative women back in the workforce - which can only be good. And it's really not rocket science or necessarily about board quotas. It's about putting practical policies and support in place - a recruitment notice board/chat forum - or going to agencies that are starting to specialise in this area, clearly flagging in application process, being open/realistic about hours amd flexibility in working from home (around nursery pick ups etc - however I write this in the office at 9pm!), focused induction off the back of maternity leave - and even more importantly - rating this working style, the added value two heads brings, and promoting it as a viable leadership option....

  7. Comment by Deborah posted on

    It is great to see such a positive endorsement of flexible working in general and job sharing in particular. Those of us who have done it know that it is a way of working that is great both for individuals and for the business. Thank you for actively supporting it.

  8. Comment by Juliet posted on

    During my Civil Service career I have worked full time, part time and in a job share partnership. Job share has been a complete revelation as it offers me and my job share the means to work flexibly in a demanding management role. Our organisation benefits from two heads being better than one, and from the energy and enthusiasm of two motivated staff members who value their careers but also value time at home with their young families. It really is a win-win situation, and I would like to see other business areas embrace it. It's great to see support from the top to break down some of the barriers that were raised at the recent job share event.

  9. Comment by Ruth Bailey posted on

    It is fantastic to see such senior leadership support for part-time and job share working patterns. I worked part-time for 6 years and am now part of a job share. Unlike some of the bloggers on this site I have always been treated fairly during end of year appraisal and have a strong belief that I am judged on the basis of what I achieve and how I achieve it rather than the hours I work. I do appreciate though that some others may not feel they are treated fairly, which is why it is so important that Sir Bob is making this public statement about the value of such working patterns. I encourage all managers of part-time/job sharers to reflect about how they can get the best out of these people that work for them. That is what my managers have always done and the benefit for me, them and the value of what I have delivered has been well worth the effort.

  10. Comment by Victoria posted on

    Job-sharing works. I've had a really good experience of hiring job-sharers in the communications environment in government. It helps inordinately if job-shares apply for roles as a ready-made package to eliminate the potential issue (real or otherwise) of not finding someone who job shares with similar skills - especially in an area of specialism, such as communications. I've also hired part time workers who in my experience are committed, hard working and productive. I encourage flexible working and do so myself - helped by the new ways of working introduced in my dept and excellent IT (which is critical and should be offered to everyone regardless of grade). It won't be for everyone - 'horses for courses' comes to mind - but most job holders will benefit from remote working some of the time and mixing up long days with short days to suit business needs. This sort of change should be embraced.

  11. Comment by Simon Shelly posted on

    Really important that the Public Sector, where resources are stretched, maximise all opportunities to deliver in smarter, modern ways. Encouraging Civil Servants to maintain or increase their output and productivity through the working pattern which best suits them is not only morally right, it makes business sense for all concerned.

    It is very good that Sir Bob now has endorsed this so publicly. We in the FCO are proud to be strong supporters of delivery through flexible working patterns, too.

    Simon Shelly
    Chair of the FCO Flexible Working Network (FWN)

  12. Comment by Adopting Dad posted on

    Credit where credit is due: as someone who adopted a young child, I have to say that the Civil Service has been fantastic in terms of the flexibility it has afforded us. Adoption would have been much harder without it. It's a win-win-win situation: we get to adopt the child, who has a stable loving home with us, and actually the public purse is better off too because keeping a child in care costs a fortune. We need more of this longer term, strategic thinking in the Civil Service.

    I don't often have cause to say this, but thanks Bob (and other senior CS managers, past and present, who support this).

  13. Comment by Liz Jones posted on

    I've really valued the flexibility that the civil service has offered me - and I know that I am more productive as a result. I'm not aware of anyone job-sharing at senior level in DH (they may well be there, but they aren't shouting about it) but as someone who has job-shared in the NHS, I can confirm how well it works. When I did it, I actually worked full-time, with one half-time job that I did alone, and a half-time job share. Two sets of really exciting challenges and the chance to learn how to negotiate, be collaborative, share skills and stand united. What's not to like?

    Really good to see Sir Bob taking such a strong stand on this. Thank you!

  14. Comment by worried posted on

    I do think some of the flexibilities have some practial limitations. What would happen if everyone wanted to work from home for instance? My experience is this has created a type of rationing whereby only a small proportion are allowed to work from home, normally dependant on some kind of child care responsibilities.

  15. Comment by Richard Graham, TW3 Programme Manager posted on

    The way we work is changing – but not fast enough. Most companies and public sector organisations are looking closely at what they do and how they do it but people can only realise their full potential, and that of their organisation, if they are empowered with the right tools and the right environment in which to work. But more than anything there is a need to free-up the culture of work, unhindered by rules and practices that really belong to another era.

    As part of Civil Service Reform, Cabinet Office is working closely with departments on a programme called ‘The Way We Work’ or TW3 for short. All Government departments have now started putting in place smarter working strategies coordinated through the TW3 programme. This is culture change that should fundamentally transform how the Civil Service works - a silent revolution if you like. In practice, this will mean behavioural and managerial changes that support flexibile working across the board (subject to business priorities); workplace design that provides a variety of types of space to meet the diverse needs of a modern workforce; work being done in a variety of settings, not just at a specific desk in an office, and IT that allows people to work efficiently, anywhere.

    Effective working doesn’t really require people to be at the same desk at the same time every day. Put simply “Smart Working” really means being thoughtful about the tasks you have to achieve each day and choosing the most appropriate location from which to accomplish them. Working smarter does mean that we have to challenge the assumptions of our traditional ways of working and bring in new approaches to management and teamwork, with a sharp focus on management by outcomes. We certainly need to develop skills and shared expectations about how work is done, and be innovative in developing more effective and efficient ways of working. We are planning the launch of the TW3 Guide to Smart Working in Government as part of the Smarter Working theme at Civil Service Live in London on 15/16 July. We also have some great speakers talking on the subject if you want to find out more.

  16. Comment by Noel posted on

    Thanks to advances in technology, increasingly work doesn’t need to be defined in terms of time or place. There needs to be a shift from work being thought of as a place, to work actually being something you do. “Smart Working” (covering the broad range of working arrangements including mobile working, work in different environments within an office, work at a shared office centre or hub, and home) has already been successfully embraced by many organisations and their employees in the UK and across the globe. They are proof that traditional barriers such as management and peer mistrust, security, cost, employee isolation, worries about career progression, and difficulties collaborating can be overcome with a combination of technology and cultural change.

    Flexibility policies that perpetuate flexible working as a special accommodation for individuals really need to be replaced with the message that smart working and flexibility are good for business, good for people, good for the environment, and good for the economy. And Government needs to lead the way by example.

  17. Comment by fair play posted on

    Although I whole heartedly agree with what Sir Bob says about flexibility etc it still falls down to the discretion of the manager and above to allow this- Business needs are placed above an employees needs e.g. employee asked for part year as she had 2 young children and limited access to childcare- turned down on the grounds of business needs. Problem being we already have a number of part year employees in the office and although their children are now left school they have not given the part year up therefore blocking others taking up this opportunity. I think all aspects of flexibility , part time etc should be looked at regularly so that everyone has the opportunity to use this facility.

  18. Comment by Hot air posted on

    This is all well and good saying you support and endorse this but unless its filtered down to contact and benefit centre decision makers its worthless. Ive been told theres a blanket ban on all changes to working pattern in pension centres so how does your endorsement help us?

    • Replies to Hot air>

      Comment by Noel posted on

      Come on Hot air, be fair it's easy to be cynical but what would you rather have strong and public endorsement for change from the senior levels of the Civil Service to challenge those who don't agree or silence? I know the way I am allowed to work is light years away from the past and that is down to enlightened management - I pretty sure I'm not unique.