Businesses struggling to find staff in the UK's competitive labour market can gain a real edge through offering flexible working arrangements, new research has suggested.
A study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has found that more than eight out of 10 firms polled (84 per cent) believed flexible working practices had a positive effect on retention.
Flexible working was also able to help organisations tackle recruitment difficulties by attracting underused groups.
The CIPD has published a book, entitled Flexible Working, highlighting common issues surrounding work-life balance and offering firms practical guidance on making flexible working work for both the business and the staff.
The organisation's latest research has found that more than half of organisations felt their efforts to fill vacancies had benefited from the implementation of flexible working practices.
A further 70 per cent believed flexible working had a positive impact on motivation, so helping to increase productivity.
But businesses could only reap benefits if flexible working initiatives were carefully managed, it warned.
If business and employee needs are not carefully aligned, or one group of employees feel that they are getting a worse deal than another, then there is a danger that the benefits will be outweighed by the costs, it added.
John Stredwick, co-author of Flexible Working, said: "The traditional 'cradle to grave' employment pattern, where both sides of the employment relationship were happy to stay together from induction to retirement, is increasingly being challenged.
"Employers have to prepare policies and practices that will facilitate this change by enabling those who want to join, leave and rejoin the labour market to do so.
"Flexible working practices can be advantageous to both organisations and employees in doing this," he added.
Flexible working gave workers more control over when and where they worked, meaning firms attracted more focused and motivated employees.
It also helped attract underused groups, such as parents and students, Stredwick suggested.
Technology had made flexible working, particularly home working, a much easier option, but technology alone could not make flexible working successful, it could merely support and enhance it, added Stredwick.
Employers therefore that failed to manage flexible working initiatives would not reap the business benefits, meaning HR, line managers and staff all had to sign up, buy in and be engaged, he suggested.
The closer you tied the move toward flexible working to real business and employee needs, the more chance you had of achieving what you wanted. Flexible working was merely a toolkit for improving the way an organisation currently operated.
It was how managers chose to deploy that tool that ultimately would determine whether the result of flexible working was good or bad, argued the CIPD.