What working arrangements are organisations employing to stay ahead of the
In recent years there has been much talk about the use of flexible working
practices, both by employers who want to be able to flex labour in line with
demand and employees who want to work in more flexible ways to achieve a better
But how widespread is the use of flexible working practices in reality?
The findings from the 2003 Cranet Survey reveal a number of trends. Since
1995, there has been some growth in the use of flexible working, in particular
the use of homeworking and teleworking.
Some types of flexible working are much more common than others. For example
nearly all respondents with more than 200 employees used part-time working,
whereas the use of annual hours and compressed working were much less common.
In many cases, although various forms of flexible work practices were used,
they only involved a small proportion of the workforce.
The use of part-time staff has been consistently high. Since 1995, the vast
majority of companies (more than 95 per cent) have used part-time staff. The
use of temporary staff has also been high, but there is evidence of some
decline – from 96 per cent in 1995 to 88 per cent in 2003 – which may be in
response to the shifting legal status of temporary staff. However, despite
being widely used by organisations, our findings show that these practices do
not cover a significant slice of the workforce. For example, there was a small
increase in the proportion of staff working part-time over the eight-year
period, in 75 per cent of cases part time staff amounted to less than 20 per
cent of the workforce. In 2003, three-quarters of employers reported using
fixed-term contracts, but this typically only covered a small proportion of the
workforce – almost 70 per cent reported using temporary contracts with less
than 10 per cent of staff.
Perhaps not surprisingly, two areas which have seen a significant increase
were the use of home-based and teleworkers (see figure 1). While these forms of
working are still not widespread (a little over one-third and one-fifth
respectively), there has been a significant increase in their use over the
eight-year period – the use of teleworking has almost doubled. This trend can
be explained by developments in communications technology – which make the
practicalities of remote working easier – and by the increase in work-life
balance initiatives. Sixty-one per cent of employers operated job-sharing
schemes and 50 per cent offered some form of flexi-time, usually covering a
greater proportion of the workforce.
The use of shift-working was commonly used by respondents and unlike
part-time and temporary work, tended to involve a greater proportion of the
workforce – 36 per cent of companies reported that more than a fifth of their
workforce did shifts. However, the three surveys showed some decrease in the
use of shift work (see figure 2), which is perhaps surprising considering the
increasingly long operating hours in many service businesses. This may indicate
a more innovative use of different types of contracts to cover longer hours.
The use of overtime continues to be high – 94 per cent of organisations making
use of it – but this has decreased from 97 per cent in 1995 and 1999.
Organisations may be employing more cost-effective solutions in terms of other
flexible working arrangements.
Overall, the findings suggest that with a few exceptions, there has been
considerable stability in the use of flexible work practices and that, even
where various forms are widespread, they tend only to relate to a small
proportion of the total workforce.