Flexible working is increasingly being offered to employees across all industry sectors as a benefit that ensures a harmonious work-life balance, and as a means to reduce work-related stress.
Indeed, as many as one in five workers suffer from workplace stress which costs the UK economy around £3.7 billion each year, according to the Health and Safety Executive. And, from April 2009, the right for all employees to request flexible working will be extended to parents who have children up to the age of 16 years -- it currently only covers children up to the age of six years.
Flexible working means exactly what it says on the tin -- the ability to work an agreed number of hours during a working week within a schedule that you choose which doesn't interfere with your personal commitments. This could involve working part-time, or choosing to work your full-time hours over fewer days, job sharing or working from home.
But which jobs have the best flexible working schedules? Here's our list of the top 10.
The retail sector is largely dependent upon flexible and part-time workers who make up the bulk of its workforce. Indeed, 13 per cent of all the part-time workers in the UK are employed in this sector and many employers have introduced schemes that make it easier for workers to balance their home and working lives, such as McDonalds who operate a 'family contract,' which enables two people from the same family to cover each other's shifts with no prior notice.
2. Call centres
There are currently over 6,900 call centres employing around 800,000 people in the UK, and an increasing number of these centres are allowing more of their staff to work from home -- a situation that seems to benefit both employer and employee. Indeed, the AA is one of the biggest call centre operators in the UK and an independent employment review revealed that the company's productivity increased by 30-40 per cent above that of standard call centres by allowing employees to work from home.
3. Public sector
Often viewed as the pioneers of the flexible working concept, the public sector is renowned for its focus on creating a harmonious work-life balance. Yet despite this, the sector has long-struggled to recruit the number of people with the right skills and experience and as such, many employers offer incentives such as higher salaries to attract candidates.
Over the last eight years more than 12,000 former teachers have returned to the profession. And in 2007 alone, over 40,000 newly qualified teachers took up posts, lured by the Government's 'golden handshake' and flexible working patterns -- not to mention the eight or more weeks off per year that the average teacher can take advantage of.
With more than 2 million businesses in the UK, from corner shops to large industrial and commercial estates, security guards are charged with the task of safeguarding and reducing the risk of threat to a business around the clock. And this means that shift work is commonplace.
Care workers help individuals in every aspect of their daily lives, from washing and dressing to teaching patients how to cook or perform routine domestic tasks. By its very nature, the care sector requires workers to cover various shift patters to ensure that 24-hour personal care is available for patients.
The days when banks were only open between 9 AM and 3:30 PM, have been replaced by 24 hour telephone and online banking. And this means that banks are able to offer a range of flexible working hours. Indeed, some banks, including Lloyds TSB and Royal Bank of Scotland, market flexible working as a key employee benefit when looking to attract graduate entrants.
The hospitality industry encompasses hotels, restaurants, bars, holiday resorts or any service industry that is centred on tourists and guests. The sector offers a huge range of opportunities and is a favourite working environment for people looking to return to the workforce such as mothers who have taken time off to raise a family and want to fit their working hours around their children's schooling or students looking to earn some extra money whilst keeping their days free for studying.
With one in three nurses due to retire in the next 10 years and more than 5,000 nurses leaving the UK to work overseas every year, the NHS has long been on a recruitment drive to stem the flow of nurses leaving the profession. And with 90 per cent of all nurses in the UK being female, the NHS offers flexible working shifts to enable working mothers to return to the workplace and fill much-needed vacancies.
Associate university lecturers rarely work nine to five every day of the week and will often find themselves scurrying across town from one college to another to teach a class. Like freelancers, associate lecturers are often employed by more than one educational institute and because the work in primarily term-time only, this means that the hours can be very flexible.