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7 January 2005

Government and Employers must respond to Changing Demographics. Career expectations are shifting as workforce changes

For full report see here (pdf 128kb)

The UK population wants a shift in working practices to better reflect their changing working lives according to a new report, Changing Demographics, by Laura Williams and Alexandra Jones of The Work Foundation. More than half of respondents are dissatisfied with their current working hours, with the majority preferring to work fewer hours. As the labour market changes, surprising trends are emerging about which companies are better at responding to changing expectations and people’s desires for career structures to change.

Contrary to expectation, those working in small companies were more likely to say they could work flexibly than those working in mid-size organisations. This is despite smaller firms being less likely to have a Human Resources function. However, whilst small firms might be good at informal flexibility, it does mean that a person’s access to flexibility depends far more on her relationship with her manager than on a policy setting out clear rules – meaning there could be scope for unfairness.

Not only do people want to work fewer hours, they want greater flexibility. In particular, the growing number of dual income households – meaning someone still has to care for children – and the growing realisation that we are going to have to work until later in life to fund retirement may lie behind a greater desire for time outside work. Over two-thirds of respondents believe that career structures need to allow for time out without damage to career prospects and that organisations need to change the long hours culture.

Currently if you step off the ‘career motorway’ and take time out, you get stuck in a ‘career cul-de-sac’- often with fewer opportunities for training, lower wages and little change to progress. Organisations need to respond to changing demographics and find a way to create ‘career lay-bys’ instead.

This does not mean that people want to be idle. The majority of respondents do not see ‘not working’ as ideal at most periods of their lives and careers. However, as responsibilities change, most respondents support the idea of being able to work on a flexible basis and want the choice of full or part time depending on their situations.

Significant gender differences are still very clear though. Men and women’s expectations of how they would like to work or ‘should’ work when they have young children are significantly different. While both sexes agree not working is not ideal (17% of women and 5% of men say they would like not to work at this stage of their lives), men prefer full time work (70% vs15% of females) and women part time (70% vs 20% of males).

In a gender surprise, children appear to come second best to their parents for men: men are far more likely to see flexible part-time working as ideal when they have eldercare responsibilities than when they have young children. This suggests that while both men and women still see care for young children as something that requires women to change their working patterns, and not men, when it comes to eldercare then responsibilities have a more equal balance.

Laura Williams, The Work Foundation, comments, "As the population changes, the Government and employers need to respond to the repercussions these changes create for the labour market. When designing products, companies understand that at different times in their lives, different people need and want different things. It is not such a giant leap to apply this to the labour market: to start talking not just about working hours, but about working lives, which helps encompass the way that each person can and wants to work may change over the lifetime".

Alexandra Jones, Senior Researcher, The Work Foundation, said, "Our survey respondents have demonstrated that they are looking to their employers and the Government to provide a working climate that enables them to make changes without impacting on their career success or their earnings potential. With the labour market becoming more female, older and more diverse, these are growing demands that the Government is already starting to respond to – and that all employers need to sit up and listen to. The UK’s demographics are already changing: the workplace cannot afford not to".

– ENDS –

Notes to Editors

  • The report’s authors Laura Williams and Alexandra Jones are available for interview
  • The report is based on a telephone survey of a representative sample of 1000 adults aged 16+ in September 2004.
  • The report in pdf format (128kb) is available here


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