Flexibility still slow to catch on

Dec 03 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

UK firms are only slowly switching on to the rewards of flexible working, according to the latest Business in Britain report from Lloyds TSB Corporate.

But while only a third of firms currently offer work options for full time employees, these companies say they are already reaping the benefits. Flexible contracts and working hours are a major boon for businesses; firms offering flexibility claim that staff retention and morale are significantly improved and that productivity is directly increased.

Over one third of businesses have seen much greater staff morale following the introduction of flexible working and just under half say that being a bit more adaptable has helped them retain valued staff.

Record low unemployment is making recruiting skilled staff increasingly difficult, and more than four out of ten of the 2,000 businesses surveyed had problems recruiting the right people.

The pressure on firms to offer flexible working was highlighted by a Department for Trade and Industry survey earlier this year that found that seven out of ten job seekers now want to work more flexibly and almost half would also look for flexible working over any other benefit offered by employers.

Lloyds TSB’s Peter Navin said that flexibility was now a vital recruitment tool that can give employers the edge in an environment where the competition for quality staff is intense. “Any company that can rise to the challenge and see flexible working as an opportunity, rather than a threat, can seize advantage,” he said.

But UK firms still need to look at offering more creative employment solutions. Fewer than four percent provide tailor-made options such as personalised hours or compressed working weeks. Family friendly company benefits are also thin on the ground with fewer than one per cent of firms offering any form of childcare benefits.

"Clearly employers are beginning to respond to the expectations and priorities of their employees,” Peter Navin said, “but businesses increasingly need to find even more innovative ways to retain and motivate staff. Investment in staff needs to be seen as an investment in the business."

However, many firms believe that being more accommodating would be too impractical. Although only one in ten companies do not think they would actually benefit from flexible working, seven out of ten still see it as unworkable for their business.

The cost and organisation required to co-ordinate and administer such arrangements, particularly in big firms, is viewed as prohibitive – more than eight out of ten companies with 51 or more employees claim it is not workable.