Better deal for working parents - but how will the boss react ?


Four in 10 UK workers are not aware of a new law that will give parents the right to ask their employers for flexible working, says the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) in new research out today.

The poll reveals that the public needs more information about the new rights to apply for flexible working options although there ahs been some initial publicity surrounding the legislation.

The new rights to apply for flexible working options, which will affect 3.7 million parents, come into force on 6 April 2003.

Mirroring the “disconnect” that is often apparent in the workplace between policies on paper and their implementation, a surprising six out ten workers were unsure whether their bosses would respond positively to such a request. Almost a fifth (18 per cent) of those with children under six were convinced that their bosses would not go for the idea, while a further third did not know how they would respond.

London bosses appear to be the least tolerant in the country. Only 21 per cent of London workers thought that their bosses would be supportive of the new legislation compared to 47 per cent of Edinburgh workers.

The research is released to mark the launch of the second phase of the Equal Opportunities Commission's campaign, 'Carry on Equality'. The campaign also aims to promote a change of workplace culture, and combat the assumption that someone who asks to change their working hours is less committed to their job.

Julie Mellor, Chair of the EOC, believes that employers need to change their tune.

'We need a radical change of culture in the workplace so that parents feel confident enough to ask their boss for flexibility if they need it. This must be seen as a real option for men too. Our research shows that men are less likely than women to have access to flexible working, even though they are now doing a third of parental childcare. Asking to change your hours isn't a sign that you're any less committed to the job. “

David Frost, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, who is supporting the campaign, stresses that companies need to be more lateral in their thinking.

'Flexible working can increase staff morale and business productivity, especially in the SME market. Many businesses recruit and retain valuable staff, because they are willing to think beyond the traditional Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.”