Need to boost workplace flexibility for the lower-paid

Today's workers are choosing to re-invent themselves during their careers
Today's workers are choosing to re-invent themselves during their careers

A report by Family Friendly Working Scotland (FFWS) suggests parents with low earnings are more likely to be in jobs which deny flexible working options.

Research found adults in the most affluent income bracket are 23 per cent more likely to have access to flexible hours than those in the worst-off 20 per cent.

Parents on higher incomes are also more than twice as likely to have access to paid time off when a child is ill than those on the lowest incomes, while those at the other end of the pay scale are more likely to call in sick themselves rather than say their child is ill.

Nikki Slowey, Programme Director at FFWS said: “There is increasing recognition of the value of family friendly and flexible ways of working to employers, families and communities in Scotland. But much of the debate over recent years has been concentrated among middle and high income employers and employees, where flexibility has grown to be viewed as a point of competitive advantage.

“Less attention has been focused on the experiences of low income families, although there is growing concern about the economic situation of ‘just managing families’.

“As parents we want to support our children through the many milestones in their lives, whether that’s starting school, starring in their school play or preparing for important exams.

“But balancing this support alongside the demands of work can be very challenging, especially if your employer gives you little or no flexibility, or shows no understanding.

“In our research, many parents described themselves as ‘passing ships’ because they don’t get time together and this is the thing that families would most like to change about their work life balance. Almost one in three (30%) low income parents feels that work commitments mean they have missed out on home or family activities they would have liked to have taken part in.

“The impact of work on family life, relationships and wellbeing, along with the cost of childcare, leads to many reducing or giving up work entirely. A combination of flexible working and appropriate support with childcare can reduce stress within the family, enhancing mental and physical wellbeing and supporting family relationships; and can retain parents, especially mothers, in the workplace, to the long term benefit of their immediate employers and to the wider economy. Crucially, there should be genuine choice for families about their balance between work and home, time and money.”

Parents who had used flexibility were also more likely to rate their employer highly than those who did not. Eight out of ten (80%) parents rated employers who provide flexibility as ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ good, compared to fewer than five out of ten (46%) for employers not providing flexibility.

It also showed low income parents with access to flexible working had higher levels of mental wellbeing (66 per cent) compared to those without access (57 per cent) or not in employment (50 per cent).

Minister for Children and Early Years Mark McDonald said: “Flexible working can bring great benefits to both employers and employees, which is why this Government is committed to promoting it in both the private and public sector, and why we fund the Family Friendly Working Scotland Partnership.

“I warmly welcome this research which usefully shines a light on some of the barriers to flexible working that parents still face. Although I recognise that in some sectors it is not always easy to provide flexible working options, I would encourage all employers to adopt the starting position that any job can be done flexibly unless there is a compelling reason why it can’t.”

FFWS, a partnership of voluntary organisations and the Scottish Government, held an event at the Scottish Parliament hosted by Gillian Martin MSP, to draw the debate around work and families who are “just managing”.

Visit: www.familyfriendlyworkingscotland.org.uk/research to access the full report.

Follow Family Friendly Working Scotland on Twitter @ffworkscot