Senior civil servants feel unable to work flexibly, survey suggests

Nearly half of senior managers say they cannot work flexibly, according to a survey by the FDA union — despite a range of policies to encourage better work-life balance

By Suzannah Brecknell

13 May 2016

Nearly half of civil servants feel they cannot make use of flexible working policies, according to findings released this week by the FDA union.

The union —  which is open to civil servants in grades HEO and above — surveyed members to find out about their working hours and workloads.

Nearly all respondents (93%) said their employer had policies in place to support a better work-life balance, such as compressed hours or term-time working. 

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But even where employers allowed flexible working arrangements, 47% of respondents said they felt unable to use them.

This figure has risen since the last time FDA asked its members this question in 2012. Back then, 40% said they felt unable to take advantage of flexible working policies.

The union also asked respondents to give the reasons they felt unable to work flexibly, with the most common reason given — cited by 29% — being that flexible working would just mean taking on more work outside of contracted hours to keep on top.

The next most common reasons were that “flexible working is not encouraged at my grade” (20%) and “my post is not suitable for flexible working (15%).

CSW analysis of ONS statistics meanwhile suggests that certain grades are also less open to part-time working. 

From 2010 to 2015, the proportion of part-time workers in the civil service overall grew from 21% to 25%.

But in some grades the rise was greater — the proportion of administrative assistants and officers working part time jumped from 25% in 2010 to 32% in 2015, while in the SCS there was a six point rise from 7% to 13%.

Middle managers, however, seem to have fared less well. For Grades 6/7, HEO and SEO, the proportion of staff working part time is both lower than average — at 16% and 17% respectively —  and has grown relatively slowly, with just a four percentage point rise since 2010.

Cabinet Office figures on the civil service’s performance management — recently analysed by the Prospect union and shared with CSW — also suggest that part time staff perform relatively poorly under the current system. The figures show that part-time staff receive a top performance marking in only 14% of cases compared to 21% for full-time staff. 

The majority — 88% — of the 1,106 to the FDA’s new survey were full-time workers, and of those who worked part time a large minority (45%) worked the equivalent of four days a week.

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