Flexible work

The most common adjustment to work which older workers request from their managers is a change to their working hours. This may be explained by the fact that they want to have a satisfying balance between work and relaxation in their lives as well as to open up space in their work routines to enable them to take part in retirement activities (Reynolds, Farrow & Blank, 2012). It may also be because they have caring responsibilities for grandchildren, parents (or even grandparents) and sometimes both. The term ‘sandwich carer’ has been used to describe older people (usually, but not always, women) whose caring responsibilities span generations. The term also might refer to the fact that those in work are ‘sandwiched’ between their responsibilities in the workplace and home. Poor design of work routine could force carers out of employment early as they find the competing pressures of caring for family members and meeting work demands difficult to cope with.

Part-time work is the most common form of flexible working amongst older workers, and for many, reducing working hours while continuing in the role that they had been in meets their needs and minimises disruption in their lives. However, poorly designed part-time working can increase rather than reduce stress. For example, if an employer reduces working time but doesn’t take away any of the older worker’s tasks, the employee may feel increased pressure to complete their workload in a shorter space of time. Flexible work arrangements like flexitime, annualised hours, and job sharing. Job sharing is a popular method of intergenerational learning as older and younger workers can share a job role with the former sharing their knowledge in carrying out the role and the latter can share knowledge of how to use new technology.

Care workers and working time pressures

Many care workers join the profession because they expect that care work is flexible and they will be able to fit work around their other responsibilities, for example caring responsibilities which they have in the home. Most care work is outside of the normal nine to five work routine, and it is understandable that care workers expect to be able to take on work which fits within their schedule (e.g. taking on fewer clients if their responsibilities at home increase).

Many care workers are able to balance home and work responsibilities, but not all care workers feel that they have much control over their work routines. First, a care worker may have set a pattern of work to fit within their work-life balance needs, but work demands could make it difficult to stick with their patterns. Some care workers talked about having to take shorter lunch breaks or finishing work later in order to make sure that their clients were looked after.

Many others are on employment contracts without fixed working hours (so called zero hour contracts) and they are only paid for time which they have with clients which can change from week to week. These workers often feel that they have little autonomy over how they set their working hours because when they work is governed by when they are called out to jobs. On the surface, it may seem like they can decide when they work based on accepting or declining jobs, but the reality is that they need enough work for a secure income so must take on jobs even if doing so creates strains in their life outside work. Further, some care workers on precarious employment contracts worry that declining jobs may lead them not getting future work.
Like many industries, flexible work can be both a benefit and difficulty for those working in social care. Those who need to work on a flexible basis may worry about being passed over for training or career development opportunities or seeming less committed to their jobs than those working longer hours. Part-time work is sometimes referred to derogatively as the ‘mommy track’ with few opportunities for career progression. However, this term is a misnomer because there are many carers such as older people with caring responsibilities for elderly relatives and/or grandchildren who also need flexible work patterns.

Although older workers or pensioners may have less family commitments, their workability are likely to be reduced. According to the multidimensional conceptual workability (WA) is the basis for well-being, and the variables that affect it may be influenced by factors related to the individual, the environment and life outside of work. Due to a greater susceptibility to conditions that reduce their ability to work, the elderly are frequent associated with impairments in body functions, difficulties in performing work activities and restrictions in social participation. Having flexible working hours may support their ability to perform the work accordingly without causing any physical problems to the older workers and the quality of work performed.

Checklist for good practice

1) Have you had conversations with employees about their work patterns?
2) Do their work patterns fit within their home and work needs? Are you losing staff because of problems with work-life balance?
3) Do staff feel enabled to have conversations with you about their flexible work need?
A) Are requests met with a view toward seeking an accommodation?
B) Are alternatives offered when requests are declined?
4) What flexible arrangements are on offer in your workplace?
A) Can employees choose from different patterns?
B) Can employees job share a post which may lead to a more qualified and higher paying job?