Thumbs-up all round for flexible working

2005

Working smarter, not longer, is key to improving productivity and boosting employee satisfaction. That was the message from Britain's employers, trade unions and the government at the launch of a new guide to tackling the 'long hours culture'.

The report, Managing Change: Practical ways to reduce long hours and reform working practices has been produced as the culmination of a series on nine master classes around the UK, at which the featured 'business champions' have shared their experiences with other employers.

Produced in partnership between the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the CBI and the TUC, the report seeks to identify practical ways of implementing change management programmes in the workplace and share this learning between businesses.

It reveals how companies including BT, Accenture, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Rolls-Royce and Eversheds have introduced measures including part-time working, flexitime, job-sharing and annualised hours in a bid to modernise working practices, while maintaining, or improving, productivity.

Benefits include enhanced customer service, retention of skilled staff, improved morale and less absenteeism - all factors which contribute to improved worker satisfaction and productivity.

BT, for example, now has some 100,000 staff working flexibly or from home, saving the company more than £10 million a year. It has also replaced almost 300,000 face-to-face meetings with video and web-based conferencing, saving a further £128m in the past year alone.

Another major impact of flexibility has been to reduce the number of professional women who resign at the peak of their careers to spend more time with their children.

At PwC, the widespread take-up of flexible working – more than nine out of 10 requests from employees are approved - has seen the proportion of women returning to the firm after having children rise from four out of 10 in 1998 to more than nine out of 10 today.

One of the lessons to emerge from the report is that businesses need to make sure they have the trust of their workforce and their active input when considering and introducing changes.

"Maximising company performance by modernising working patterns is a key issue for UK firms," said John Cridland, Deputy Director-General of the CBI.

"This project demonstrates how involving employees in new patterns of work can raise productivity, reduce absenteeism and give people a better work-life balance.

"Both business performance and employee satisfaction are improved and these are at the heart of any high-performance workplace."

"Lots of organisations have shown that we can beat Britain's long hours culture by working smarter," added Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary.

"Unions do believe in proper regulation, but this initiative shows that workplaces can do even better when managers and employees work together."