Promoting A Family Friendly Workplace In FE/HE

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We’ve all come up against work-life balance problems, whether it’s because of our own care responsibilities, or because other people leave us taking up the slack due to theirs. FE and HE institutions in the UK have been slow to respond, but recruitment and retention problems may serve to refocus attention.

The following are examples of policies and practices that help to retain and get the most out of employees with child, disability and elder care responsibilities, making their workplaces better for all kinds of families. 

Flexible work patterns.

You would think this would be simple in academic life, where flexibility in scheduling teaching hours has long been one of the most attractive features of the job. However, increasing demands for “contact time” have created problems, as have increased expectations for academics to do double-duty as administrators and support workers.

The Centre for the Education of Women has recommended going beyond offering “flexi-time,” where staff can opt to take a day off here and there, by also offering modified duties for academics. This means temporarily altering work responsibilities—for example, less classroom teaching or clinical work—during periods of increased care duties at home.

Promoting partial and part-time work options.

Academics in the Netherlands frequently job-share, and this option is starting to gain ground in the UK.  Other options include fractional posts, from as low as 10 percent on up to 90 percent, that keep people employed when they have additional responsibilities outside work. It’s important to ensure that these options don’t turn into a de facto “mommy track,” however, by promoting them to both men and women, and taking steps to keep part-time colleagues connected with key networks and decision-making.

Campus-based child care.

Child care in the UK is very expensive compared to the rest of Europe: according to the Family and Childcare Trust, full-time nursery places cost on average £9000 per year in 2013. That’s a big chunk from of an academic’s salary. Reliability and availability are also issues for academics. Campus child-care centres are thin on the ground in the UK, and their costs have not bucked this trend. In the US, child care for staff is sometimes subsidised by employers, campus-based centres are common, and child, elder and disability day care can be partially written off on taxes. In Europe, care costs are frequently subsidised by the state at a far higher rate than in the UK. UK subsidy schemes, such as child-care vouchers, currently don’t work well for academics. On-site child care with low costs, flexibility, and both day and evening hours would go far to keep parents in post—and to relieve non-parenting co-workers from having to cover when private arrangements fail.

Support for working from home.

The tools are there, but a culture of “presenteeism” makes it hard to use them. Business employers are increasingly allowing and encouraging employees to work from home part of the time. Making sure that college and university admin systems are accessible remotely and investigating the use of Skype and other remote-meeting technologies could save time and money, and keep people on the job even when they’re off-campus.

Further resources:

Family Friendly Working Hours Taskforce (2010) Flexible Working: Working for Families, Working for Business. London: Department of Work and Pensions. Online at:

Smith, G.C. and Waltman, J.A. (2006) Designing and Implementing Family Friendly Policies in Higher Education. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, The Centre for the Education of Women. Online at:

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