Focus: People Management - Charities relying on overwork culture

Graham Willgoss, graham.willgoss@haynet.com

A survey finds sector staff working extra days to manage their workloads.

More than two-thirds of voluntary sector staff work longer than their contracted hours, according to a new report from Working Families.

It found that employees work an average of 23 extra days per year, with a third of organisations claiming that working long hours is the only way their staff can manage their workloads.

However, 89 per cent agreed that a long hours culture reduces the effectiveness of workers and will increase costs caused by sickness and absenteeism.

"As a sector that promotes human worth and dignity, it is important that these values are reflected in our employment practices," says Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families. "Yet many organisations experience high levels of turnover and absence, and far too many are called to employment tribunals to answer claims."

The survey of 104 voluntary organisations, called Changing our World: Balancing Work and Home in the Voluntary Sector, suggests that many do not have access to the financial and management resources they need. Organisations pointed to a lack of long-term funding as the biggest problem they face in managing staff time, with 77 per cent indicating that increased sustainable income would help them offer or extend work-life balance practices.

Working Families makes several recommendations in the report on how employers can support the work-life balance of their staff. These include monitoring hours worked and finding ways to limit extra hours, such as managing time off in lieu, ensuring jobs and projects are adequately designed and resourced, and providing training on time-management.

The charity has also launched a free online guide to negotiating flexible working for staff, offering legal and practical advice and coaching online.

The Interactive Flexible Working Guide helps employees consider the legal, financial, workplace, family and childcare issues that can affect their working hours, before giving a step-by-step guide to negotiating the hours they want.

"Many staff, particularly parents and carers, feel trapped in a culture of long working hours," says Jackson. "Making a properly thought-through business case for flexible working is vital for successfully negotiating the changes they want and need. Our online guide will help working families that have problems contacting us during working hours to access our service and find the information they need to negotiate more family-friendly ways of working."

- See Letters, page 27, and Interaction supplement, page 9.

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