In a recent survey, many young workers admitted they would
shun a pay rise in favour of more control over where and
how they work. This should be welcome news to the charity
sector which struggles to match the salaries and perks of
private firms, but can effectively employ flexible working
as a weapon in the battle for recruitment and retention.
In fact many charities are already doing just that, and
with great success. And if HR directors take note of the
survey findings, many more may soon follow suit.
Carried out in February, the survey from Microsoft Windows
Mobile found that nearly half of the under-25’s questioned
said being able to determine their own working practices
was more appealing than a higher salary offer from a rival
Laura Williams, senior researcher at the Work Foundation,
an organisation committed to improving the quality of working
life, says there is plenty of evidence to back up the findings.
“Many graduates we survey say they look at what work/life
policies are on offer at different companies when they’re
looking for their first jobs after university,” she
She recalls interviewing the chief executive of a small
charity who described the process as a trade-off. “She
said people might not get paid so well at the charity as
at a private firm, but they could work part-time or at home,
and that was worth an amount of money to some people. They
were willing to earn less if they had a better quality of
Williams says flexible working is defined as “being
able to work within hours or locations that suit a person’s
work and outside-work responsibilities”. This could
include starting and finishing work earlier, working from
home on certain days of the week, job sharing or working
Changing demographics mean there are more women in the workforce,
bringing with them the reality of needing flexibility for
childcare or to care for elderly relatives, and people are
also working to an older age.
Carly Connelly, marketing director of recruitment consultants
the Principle Partnership, says charities that don’t
embrace flexible working will bypass this ever widening
pool of workers. “Offering flexible working makes
you more attractive in the marketplace,” she says.
“If you’re rigid about your working practices,
then you won’t necessarily attract the best candidates.
There’s a lot of talent, especially among women returning
to work, that you’ll miss out on.”
Legislation has started to address the issue. The Employment
Act 2002, which came into force in April 2003, gave working
parents of children under the age of six and disabled children
under the age of 18, the right to apply to work flexibly.
This year, that right will be extended to workers who care
for elderly relatives.
Many charities, however, go beyond what is required by law,
offering flexible working packages to all employees, regardless
of whether or not they have caring responsibilities. The
Royal National Institute for the Deaf, for example, does
not have a formal policy on flexible working but, says executive
director HR, Vicky Hemming, managers will listen to all
requests and do their best to accommodate them.
“Flexible working is something we’re very committed
to,” she says. “As a charity, 74 per cent of
our workforce is female and that brings with it an awful
lot of people with caring responsibilities, but men also
want that kind of flexibility.
“Flexible working is really important to assist in
recruitment and retention, and we try to offer flexibility
and don’t assume one size fits all.”
Hemming believes there is a “modern feeling”
that achieving a balance between home and work life is becoming
more important than pay and bonuses, and she feels that
charities can tap into this to tempt workers away from private
“We have less money to spend than the private sector,
but we’re much better at doing something with nothing,”
she says. “We’re better at being focused on
winning hearts and minds because that’s the only way
we can recruit; by being more creative and offering what
we can afford, which is flexible working.”
It is a tenet also practised at Anchor Trust, a not-for-profit
organisation which provides housing and support services
for the elderly. Flexible working packages for employees
include the option of ‘zero hour contracts’,
giving staff the option to choose their hours to suit them.
Field-based staff can work at home when catching up with
paperwork, and are given broadband connection and access
to Anchor’s network.
Jenny Sawyer, Anchor’s head of people strategy, says
that although the organisation has policies and procedures
in place around flexible working, the practice is essentially
based on mutual trust between staff and managers.
She adds: “I think flexible working is one of the
main attractions for people from the private sector coming
to work for Anchor. Feedback from staff has shown us that
flexible working is very important to them in enabling them
to work to suit their lifestyle and alter their hours according
to personal circumstances.
“This means we have staff who have a good work/life
balance, are happier in their roles and therefore more likely
to stay with us in the long term. We also find that in being
flexible in our approach to working hours, staff can be
flexible in turn, giving more support to the business when
the need is highest.”
Emily Elliott, HR officer at the National Trust, agrees.
The Trust offers staff an ‘annualised hours contract’,
which means they are given a set number of hours to work
in a year and can complete those hours when it suits them,
working harder at peak times and taking time off when things
“It needs careful management on both sides, between
the line manager and the individual, and there’s a
great deal of common sense involved, but the benefits are
obvious,” she says. “It gives us a healthier
and happier workforce, allowing people to work within their
means and not feeling pressurised to work within set hours.
We get people who are more focused on what they’re
doing because they’re less stressed in their jobs.”
Mike Emmott, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s
employee relations advisor, concedes that managers will
not be able to accommodate every worker’s request
for flexible working but, where they can, the policy will
“We did an online survey in 2006, and it showed that
flexible workers are more emotionally engaged, they’re
working more effectively, they’re more enthusiastic,
more satisfied, more likely to speak positively about the
organisation they work for and less likely to quit. It’s
a win-win situation all round.”
Flexibly Working Employees
Nicola Evans, principal development manager, The
Peabody Trust: job share
Nicola Evans and Susan May both worked full-time at Peabody
before leaving at the same time to have children. They returned
part-time, then applied for their current role on a job
share basis nearly four years ago.
Evans says: “We manage a team and some staff were
a little apprehensive at first about our job share, but
I think we’ve changed people’s opinion. They
now say the organisation has got two people for the price
“They can see the energy we bring to the job because
we each have a three day week, with one day overlapping.
I think our productivity is really high because of the energy
we have, and because there are two of us to problem solve.
We both feel really positive about it.”
Bernadette Stokoe, head of customer engagement,
Anchor Housing Services:
part-time and works from home
“I live in Brighton, and that’s very important
to me. I wouldn’t have wanted to commute to London,
so working from home gives me the chance to work for Anchor
which is great, because I’m very committed to their
“Working part-time allows me to do other projects
and fit in other commitments. It’s a fantastic way
of working and it makes me very loyal to the organisation.
They really do value me as a person, and they trust me because
there’s no-one checking my hours. That makes me want
to give my best.
“For Anchor, offering flexible working makes them
much more attractive and gives them a wider range of people
to choose from when recruiting.”
Shirley Jones, PA to the chief executive, RNID:
four day week
Shirley Jones applied for a full-time post, but mentioned
at her interview that she’d like to work part-time
because of her commitments to her local church. She has
Jones says: “It’s a huge benefit, and it gives
a stronger flexibility and willingness on my part, particularly
as in this post it’s not the most convenient request
to have made. It makes me want to go that extra mile for
“I’ve worked in the deaf community for a number
of years so when this job came up I really wanted it, but
my church work is also very important to me and I didn’t
want to give that up. If I’d been offered this job
on a full-time basis, I honestly don’t know if I would
have taken it.
“The flexibility was more important to me than looking
for a job that gave me free membership to a gym or private