Employers are slow to adopt family-friendly and employee-friendly policies

November 21, 2002

This is a major conclusion of an independent survey of managers in 2,000 establishments in Britain, establishments representative of every sector, small and large organisations, public services and private companies, which was carried out between July and September 2002. The research from the Future of Work Programme, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, provides us with a portrait of how the country's workplaces are being managed today.

Among its findings, the survey reveals -

  • A significant number of employees are using the law in cases where they allege unfair dismissal, while managers find an increasing amount of their time being taken up with employment issues. Managers in 42 per cent of establishments reported that the number of unfair dismissal cases had grown in the past 12 months and only nine per cent said that the number had decreased. Employment issues generally made greater demands on management time in half the organisations surveyed, while one-in-six reported an increased bill for legal advice about employment issues over the last three years.

  • Most organisations are doing no more than the legal minimum required to meet the family needs of their women employees, and remain reluctant to offer most of their staff innovative non-financial benefits - only three per cent of establishments provide any day care programme for the children of their employees and only eight per cent offer any financial assistance for this.

  • And very few have plans to introduce improvements of this type in the next year. Just five per cent planned to enhance maternity pay beyond the State minimum level, two per cent intended to contribute to the costs of childcare, four per cent were planning to introduce new parental leave schemes and four per cent again were introducing or extending term-time working arrangements for parents.

  • Most employees lack any effective voice or representation at work and many remain uninformed about the performance of their organisation - only 26 per cent of managers regularly consulted employee representatives, and only 52 per cent used an employee suggestion scheme.

  • However, 74 per cent of large establishments have considered or are considering how to reduce stress at work, which is perhaps a response to the long-hours culture.

  • Working hours legislation is also treated seriously and 65 per cent of all establishments monitor hours. 18 per cent of establishments had asked staff to opt out of the 48-hour week imposed by the Working Time Directive, and this rose to 40 per cent of the largest establishments (those with over 500 employees). Despite this erratic progress on family-friendly employment conditions, in some other respects, employers and their managers seemed very aware of the value of developing a stable and high-quality work force rather than relying more substantially on outsourcing, temporary or casual staff. Contrary to some popular belief, downsizing and casual employment are not prominent among modern employment practices. Several years of economic prosperity and fuller employment may also help to explain why organisations appear to look for more stability. For example:

  • Organisations are recruiting more permanent and full-time employees and are not making any significant commitment to reducing their work forces to a small core and relying on different forms of sub-contracting to carry out most of their business activities.

    Moreover the great majority of employers have developed career ladders open to all their employees.

  • Just under 30 per cent of managers surveyed said their establishments used sub-contractors and agency workers. A third of establishments expected to increase the number of their employees in the next twelve months, but only 12 per cent expected to make additional use of temporary staff and only five per cent of freelance workers.

    British organisations may also be quite slow to adopt fully the new ways of working which the widespread availability of new Information Technology makes possible, another important field covered by the survey.

  • While the great majority of establishments have introduced information technology at work, many still have a long way to go before they use the new systems to improve all aspects of their performance. For example, 61 per cent of manufacturing establishments did not use computers for stocktaking and as many as 68 per cent of managers had yet to use the Internet to recruit employees.

    The findings in the new survey should provide sober reading for the government and the corporate community. They reveal - from a management perspective - relatively discontented and stressful workplaces, where managers still fail to give a high enough priority to improving the family-friendly and employee-friendly practices which would develop motivation and encourage job retention.
    A full copy of the report and survey is available from: http://www.esrc.ac.uk/erd/workplace.pdf or by email from anna.hinds@esrc.ac.uk or 44-179-341-3122

    For further information, contact
    Dr Michael White, tel: 44-207-468-2246 email m.white@psi.org.uk;
    Professor Stephen Hill, tel: 44-178-444-3033 email Stephen.Hill@rhul.ac.uk;
    Dr Patrick McGovern, tel: 44-207-955-6653 email: p.mcgovern@lse.ac.uk;
    Professor Peter Nolan, tel: 0113 233 4460 email P.J.Nolan@Leeds.ac.uk;
    Professor Jonathan Michie, tel: 44-207-631-6761 email: j.michie@bbk.ac.uk;
    Professor David Guest, tel: 44-207-848-3723 email: david.guest@kcl.ac.uk

    Or Iain Stewart or Lesley Lilley, ESRC External Relations, telephone 44-179-341-3032/413119.

    Notes for Editors
    1. A report, Managing Workplace Change, by Robert Taylor, media fellow with the ESRC's Future of Work Programme, provides a commentary on the research findings and is available on request from the ESRC

    2. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It has a track record of producing high-quality relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC invests more than £53 million every year in social sciences research. At any time, its range of funding schemes may be supporting 2,000 researchers within academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences, thereby nurturing the researchers of tomorrow. The ESRC website address is http://www.esrc.ac.uk

    3. The Future of Work Programme was launched by the ESRC in October 1998 and is helping to rectify the gaps in our knowledge. Comprising 27 projects and involving more than one hundred leading researchers across the UK, this is the most systematic and rigorous enquiry of its kind, providing evidence-based research for a better understanding of the changing world of work in a period of rapid social, technological and economic change. For further details about the programme contact Professor Peter Nolan Tel 113-233-4504.

    4. REGARD is the ESRC's database of research. It provides a key source of information on ESRC social science research awards and all associated publications and products. The website can be found at http://www.regard.ac.uk

    Economic & Social Research Council

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