Public sector workers denied flexible working by ingrained management practices

Employers in the public sector ‘talk the talk’ on work-life balance, but have only low levels of commitment to changing standard working patterns in practice, a report has found.

The study, carried out by the Work Foundation think-tank for public sector union Unison, also found that some employers deliberately block people from flexible working, or grant requests only to selected favourites.
The report states that public sector organisations make substantial “paper commitments” to work-life balance. Three-quarters of employers in the public sector have policies to address work-life balance for staff, considerably higher than the extent of work-life balance policies offered to all workers across the UK.

Yet only half of the 1,000 union members surveyed felt they had the chance to make real choices about their working arrangements.

One third of Unison members believe their managers are not committed to helping them achieve work-life balance. And some   reported their managers sought to deliberately thwart the uptake of flexible working – either by not communicating options, or by dissuading people from requesting them.

Laura Williams, senior researcher at the Work Foundation and co-author of the report, said: “Work-life balance is one of those areas where public sector organisations claim to be most progressive. But what this study does is to take a peek beneath those superficial commitments to what happens in real life.

“What we see is a classic rhetoric-reality gap. In the worst cases, managers appear to want to stamp out any modest deviation from the norm and become standard-bearers for inflexibility”

Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, said: “It is clear from this report that too many employers are still paying lip-service to providing a proper work-life balance in our public services. We need to get employers to understand that achieving that balance can produce great results with a well-motivated workforce delivering quality services.”

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