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Civil Service

Promoting flexible working in the Civil Service


Flexible working logo of the Working Families organisation, comprising two stylised quotation marks and the legend 'happy to talk flexible working'

Last year, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) set up a Task Force to promote flexible working. This brings together employer groups such as the CBI, the TUC, the CIPD, various government departments and relevant voluntary groups and professional bodies. This week, members of the Task Force are publicising what they do to make flexible working a reality and encouraging other employers to follow their example. As part of this campaign, I thought it would be helpful to let you know what we have been doing in the Civil Service.

The Civil Service offer

We are committed to becoming the most inclusive employer in the UK by 2020. Flexible working has an important role to play. It is already a key part of our culture and, in its different forms, is widespread in the Civil Service. We recognise its benefits in improving work-life balance and supporting health and wellbeing. It is crucial in enabling parents and other carers to combine an enjoyable and productive work experience with their caring responsibilities.

We are taking a number of steps to build on what we already provide.

Happy to talk flexible working

The Government wants to see all employers making flexible working a reality by advertising all jobs as flexible, unless there are solid business reasons not to. This is our approach in the Civil Service and we are a proud adopter of the Working Families organisation’s Happy to Talk Flexible Working logo.

The logo gives potential job applicants the confidence to ask about different working patterns and we have included it on the Civil Service Careers website.

To further help job applicants, we are preparing a new page for GOV.UK setting out our approach to flexible working. There will also be new guidance for vacancy holders on the refreshed Civil Service Jobs Site, as well as a clearer menu of options, so that applicants know the types of flexible working available for each post advertised.

Another of our initiatives to help job applicants is the Civil Service Returners Programme.  This provides short-term opportunities for individuals looking to return to work after a career break and gain recent and relevant experience in the Civil Service. Among others, it is aimed at those who have taken time out to look after children or care for friends or relatives.

Finally, we are supporting those looking to job share through the Civil Service Job Share Finder. This is an online job-share database that helps civil servants make compatible job-share matches with other civil servants.

Michele Anderson, who took part in the Returners Programme and now works flexibly as a civil servant in the Home Office, talks about her experience:

Michele’s flexible working story

Michele Anderson sitting at a table and speaking to school students at an outreach event on social mobility
Michele Anderson

“Before my career break, I worked in the private sector in sales and marketing. As my children became more independent, I decided to return to work to re-establish my confidence – which had eroded from being out of the workplace for over a decade – regain some financial independence and also show my children that I am now contributing in a different way, as opposed to just being Mum!

"I knew that I did not want to return to marketing and the private sector. My interests and skills had evolved, and I felt that HR and the public sector were the perfect fit.

“I joined a women returners’ network. This offered advice and a platform for women who have taken an extended career break. A returnship opportunity arose within HR in the Home Office, and I thought the advert was written specifically for me! I joined the Home Office in September 2017, leading on social mobility, gender, apprenticeships and early talent, which is where my passion and enthusiasm lie. I now have a permanent position.

“I work with great people and, on top of this, the flexibility that I have around my hours of work is respected as just a part of the fabric of 'the way we do things round here'.

"Initially, I worked 3 days per week, which was perfect, as it allowed me the time to spend with my family, regain some confidence, but still get involved in meaningful work. I now work 4 days per week, with time for study leave to do a Masters in Human Resource Management.

“Without the support from my line managers, together with the culture of working flexibly, my transition back to work would have been incredibly difficult. However, it has enabled me to balance both home and work with ease.”

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  1. Comment by Andrew Kindrat posted on

    I have read various internal web related articles concerning health & well being as well as job sharing but cannot find any information that discusses the potential benefits of partial retirement.
    I am interested to know whether partial retirement is a possibility and what the criteria for acceptance is. I would also like to know whether it could support my future well being and help improve my work life balance through examples of colleagues that may have partial retired.
    I do not want to give up work as I still want to do a good job and continue to provide experience and knowledge within my job role.
    Does anyone have an information link regarding partial retirement that they can share please.

    • Replies to Andrew Kindrat>

      Comment by The Blog Team posted on

      Hi Andrew,

      If you are interested in partial retirement, and haven't done so already, you should have a look at the relevant page on the Civil Service Pensions website. There, you will want to read, 'Partial retirement - a guide for scheme members'.

      If you are eligible, you will need to consider the financial implications. If you wish to go ahead, you will need to talk to your manager about the scope for reshaping your job. You should also check your departmental policy. Your shared services (or equivalent) will handle your application.

  2. Comment by CS posted on

    Flexible working is great in principle, however, over the past few years I believe it has been a convenient way of turning a blind eye to staff working excess unpaid hours. E-mails come in at all times of day and night and at the weekend from people who are trying to get on top of their workload. No-one comments because it could in theory all come under the banner of flexible working, however, it's actually staff working for free in a job from which it is difficult to take the time back. And if they are catching up in their own time then it has a snowball effect because it puts more pressure on others to respond at an unfeasibly quicker pace.

    Years ago we used to get messages from the top regarding avoiding a long hours culture but that has fallen by the wayside.

    I am all for flexible working but can we do something about ensuring people actually only work the hours they are contracted and paid to work, please?

  3. Comment by T posted on

    As with everything, it's about the implementation of the flexible working systems. Some employers are better than others at embracing new ways of working but, sometimes, it can be individual line managers that make the barriers. I would encourage anyone to keep trying and use whatever processes to push the issue as far as possible if the 'business need' does not seem reasonable.
    There have been a number of significant life -events in our office recently and for me personally. I am glad to say that the approach and attitude of staff and management in my Department (my unit) has been supportive for all. By helping staff ride or adjust to those difficult times more easily and with less worry, they have helped to retain motivated and appreciative staff who give back to a business that cares.

  4. Comment by Rachel Forster posted on

    I'm delighted to see the Civil Service is putting it's support firmly behind flexible working. Giving our best at work doesn't always mean we need to be at our desks 9-5 Mon to Fri, but does mean we have the tools and support to work smarter and better - no matter our location or working pattern.

    We're finding this flexible approach also increases the pool of skilled candidates applying for roles, and encourages them to stay too. Who wouldn't want to be in a team that understands our own work/life balance, in return for doing our job to the best of our ability? Now we just need to crack the range of roles that are available outside London!

  5. Comment by Lorraine May posted on

    Like others have said this is good to see but as someone who chose to take a two grade pay cut to be closer to home, and therefore make leaving my son in childcare for 4 days a week possible I would personally like to see more. Living in Kent all the major government offices for me are now in Croydon making it even harder to get to when I'm sure many of the jobs could be home-based with some travel into the office. I also think we should be looking more critically at the time required for each job as again I'm sure many could be fulfilled by a part-time position which would open up opportunities for a lot more people and I for one wouldn't be having to be contemplating the process of getting 're-promoted' over the next few years.

  6. Comment by Rabab Khudhur posted on

    Amazing, it's encourages us to do it in my post, me personally, I was looking to a way to balance my time between home and work. great work and initiative.

  7. Comment by Stephanie Israel posted on

    Flexible working can work for both employee and employer. 3 years ago I wanted to buy a puppy but although I work part-time 5 hours was too long to leave a puppy for. My service centre manager agreed I could do split shifts for 9 months so puppy wasn't left for more than a couple of hours at a time.
    I worked half my shift early and half late so I could go home and look after Magnus who is now a registered therapy dog and helping children with dog phobias.

  8. Comment by Barbara Manson posted on

    Working from home is a great idea for some but all jobs within the SG can't be done from home. I think it has to be carefully looked at and not to be used as an excuse for sick leave this does happen within the SG. As sick leave is monitored by HR this has to be taken into account.

  9. Comment by Alison York posted on

    This is a great principle. Too often we hear 'business need' when staff are applying for flexible or part time hours, but don't consider the needs of the staff. Yes we have an obligation to deliver a service, but more and more staff aged 50 and over are expected to help out with care plans for ageing relatives. With state pension age moving to 67 - many staff would like to consider reducing their hours but continuing to financially support themselves. We do so much to 'allow' customers to find work to fit around their circumstances - how about we do more for staff over 55 or 60, and acknowledge they are facing changes in their life, just like those younger staff having to provide care for young children.

  10. Comment by David posted on

    Flexible working is not the same as a traditional flexi time contract many civil servants are on. This new flexible working can be used to ensure staff are working to cover a longer business day including evenings and weekends. Instead of overtime payments for working evenings & weekends a small premium may be given. This can be more flexible for the business rather than staff. It will work for some but not all and is always made to sound wonderful even though the reality is a little different. Just ask Call Centre workers who are told they work 'flexibly'.

  11. Comment by Rozanne Kidd posted on

    This is a great and well-focused CS initiative which demands serious commitment and consistency, not to mention infrastructure investment . To gain traction and embed the critical importance of this to all CS leaders, can we also share more examples, more stories like Michelle's complemented by the same stories from a busines/leader's perspective re the positive impact such flex has enabled. These include positive female role models, improved D&I /wider people outcomes, improved engagement/retention/performance etc. Karen Blackitt OBE takes about work/life blend not balance. It isn't about juggling, which puts pressure on many civil servants in particular women as some sort of unattaibable goal. It's about getting the right mix of both which ultimately benefits us, our families, Civil Service, our customers/tax payers and society overall. A worthy aim.

  12. Comment by Harvey Neve posted on

    This is a great initiative. Flexible working allows people to make their best contribution in a way that works for everyone. The guiding principle being that your work-life balance mustn't come at the expense of someone else's; it must work for you, your colleagues and stakeholders. The environment for this to flourish is created by servant leaders, (as opposed to command and control management) which is why the Civil Service Leadership statement is a critical part of making this vision reality.

  13. Comment by Joe posted on

    A great ideal but I feel that a lot of work places public and private sector tend to use 'flexible working' policies to suit the business rather than cater for the employees needs.

    YES, business still needs to run but it seems all to often the 'business needs' card gets played whenever staff need flexibility.

    Just look at the employment deal offer regarding the fixing of 'tent poles' in that you can fix either the start or end of the working day but not both but inevitably it seems to have been managed so that 'business needs' means that it doesn't always work in practice, Even though business needs should have been accounted for when using the structure, E.G by fixing either the beginning or end of the day you have ensured resources are available throughout the day for those periods.

  14. Comment by CT posted on

    This is a very important initiative.

    Increasingly staff have caring responsibilities, .e.g. for an elderly or infirm parent/spouse etc. This is only set to increase across the workforce as social care needs ramp up.

    Also, we need to get away from the idea of having to be wedded to large office complexes, all of which cost a lot to keep going. Also, it does not make sense for people to be travelling into offices everyday when technology allows most tasks to be done from home, or perhaps a hub in a nearby CS office if need be.

    We clog up local roads and add to stress by having large numbers of people travelling each day. Yes there will always be times when face to face meetings and get togethers will be needed; but the time has surely past when we can sustain a huge estate of offices.

    We need to focus on what our deliverables are, not time spent wedded to a desk. The improvements for health and wellbeing (or staff and many others), productivity and savings for the public purse and impact on our local areas can be huge if this is grasped.

    • Replies to CT>

      Comment by Mike Bedford posted on

      You hit the nail on the head. Smart working is the future!

    • Replies to CT>

      Comment by Dave Jones posted on

      Hi, it's great to see that the government is recognising the value of achieving a good work life balance. Happy workers are more productive and flexibility in the workplace can help employers retain essential skills.
      I do wonder though whether we have gone far enough though? I'm currently faced with a dilema surrounding supporting my spouse by accompanying her to an overseas post whilst she is working on behalf of NCA. Whilst I don't want to give up my own career within HMRC, there seems to be nothing in place to facilitate spouses continuing to work for UK govt from abroad. Is there more that could be done in that space, particularly given the Civil Service aspirations regarding flexible working and increasing innovative technology that facilitates that?