Still unsure about flexibility

Jun 27 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Businesses in the UK may pay lip service to the idea of flexible working, but many are far from reaching a culture where all employees have the help and support they need to achieve a balance between their career and home life.

Research into flexible working by business information providers, Croner, has found that that while more than eight out of 10 (83 per cent) of HR professionals believe staff should be able to change their working hours to accommodate childcare needs, six out of 10 (61 per cent) think employees are too afraid to take flexible working perks for fear of hindering their career prospects.

And although employers are supporting flexible working in principle, six out of ten do not even have a flexible working policy in place.

Employers currently have a legal obligation to consider all requests from employees to work flexible hours, but are not required to agree to such requests if it can be 'reasonably justified' as not in the best interest of their business.

"Employees requesting flexible working hours are sometimes perceived as less career-focused and lacking commitment," said Richard Smith, HR expert at Croner.

"This is making some people reluctant to request flexible working times, fearing it may hinder their long-term career prospects."

Meanwhile according to Croner's survey, HR professionals increasingly believe that jobs should not encroach on leisure time, with six out of 10 saying employers should not be able to ask employees to work more than a maximum 48-hour week.

"Standards of work should not be measured in terms of hours spent at the desk, but in the quality of work and level of motivation and commitment from the individual," Richard Smith continued.

"In fact, greater autonomy and control over working hours will allow employees to better manage their workload - and their life – making them less susceptible to stress and ultimately more productive."

Flexibility often works two ways, he pointed out. Employees are more likely to put in extra hours when the job requires.

But whatever the HR profession thinks about flexible working, it is clear that some employers still view it in negative terms. Six out of 10 of the HR professionals surveyed said that flexible working regulations are making employers think twice about recruiting women, and more than eight out of 10 believe employers are reluctant to employ women of childbearing age.

Plans to extending flexible working legislation also meet with a decidedly mixed reaction. Six out of 10 of the Croner sample believe that extending maternity leave from six to 12 months will reduce the productivity of their business, although almost half (45 per cent) think new fathers should have the same rights to time of as new mothers.

"Overall, bosses have good intentions towards accommodating employees' flexible working needs," Richard Smith said

"Perceived drop in productivity and economic loss means that this is not happening in many UK workplaces – but promoting flexible working can actually have the opposite affect of increasing productivity and saving money in the long-term.

"As well as their legal obligation, employers are advised that to achieve best practice they should encourage employers to take their flexible working benefits and respond quickly and reasonably to all flexible working requests."