PERSONAL TRAINER: Our charity has a long hours culture, what can we do about it?

STEPHEN BUBB, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO). Send your questions to:

It is easy to say that we should banish long hours culture from our organisations, but it is slightly more difficult to do this in practice.

However, there are a number of clear signals that time is running out for organisations that have a long hours culture.

Of course, it is difficult for third sector organisations when we have so few staff and financial resources to do the job we want to do. Our staff are very committed to the cause and want to work as hard as they can to deliver an organisation's objectives. But beware: quantity and quality are not necessarily the same. The fact that people are spending long hours in the office does not necessarily mean greater productivity than people who have a sensible work/life balance.

As a sector we ought to be leading the way on policies on work/life balance.

But we are not. The recent ACEVO survey on pay for chief executives found that only 24 per cent of our organisations have a policy that promotes a work/life balance. Only 42 per cent of organisations have policies on leave for dependent care. More than two-thirds do offer variable hours working, working from home or temporary reductions in hours.

If you want to change a long hours culture, it is important that you look at providing more flexible ways for people to work. There is recent publicity around a survey of more than 400 professionals in marketing and human resources which found that almost two-thirds wanted more flexible working schedules but most believed it would harm their careers.

Organisations do also need to be aware of the working time regulations.

They need to set a 48-hour time limit for all workers. There is a lot of evidence that many employers have been bypassing this limit by asking employees to sign an opt-out agreement. However, this may soon change.

The European Commission is investigating the extent to which UK employers are using these agreements before conducting a review of the opt-out clause in 2003.

The Government also launched a work/life balance campaign in March 2000. A glossy document extols the virtues of a proper balance but there is not much evidence that the campaign has been terribly effective. Nevertheless, this is an issue we should take seriously in the sector and we can make a start by ensuring that all organisations actively promote flexible working patterns.

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