Flexible working still seen as a soft option

Jun 12 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

For all the efforts to promote the benefits of flexible working, it seems that old attitudes die hard. Indeed according to a new survey, six out of 10 employees in Britain still believe that asking their boss for more flexible working practices would damage their career prospects.

Making a request for a more flexible work patterns could also reflect an unwillingness to work alongside others or of being too laid back, new research from business communications provider Inter-Tel has found.

The research, which questioned office-based employees about their views on their rights to flexible working, revealed that four out of 10 Britons feel distrusted by employer to work from home

What's more, with legislation in the forthcoming Work and Families Bill proposing extending the right to request flexible hours to carers of adults from next April, a resounding nine out of 10 people believe that all employees Ė not just parents and those with caring responsibilities - should have the same rights to a more flexible work-life balance

Despite this over half said they did not know if all people were treated equally in their organisation irrespective of their domestic or parenting situation when it came to making a request and three out of 10 said that the decision was not equal within their organisation.

Yet while the government may be backing flexibility, the message is still not getting through. The majority of respondents did not feel that flexible working was necessarily a right they should be entitled to, with fewer than one in five (18 per cent) saying it should one of their employee rights.

Duncan Miller of Inter-Tel EMEA said: "The trend for home working continues to grow. Data from the UK Office of National Statistics confirms that there are now more than two million people working from home and a further eight million opting to spend at least part of their working week outside the office.

"Clearly, there are still issues to be overcome and an education process needs to take place so that everyone knows what their rights are and ways in which they can improve their work life balance."

When asked about the most important reason for applying to work flexibly, over two-thirds said it would be their desire for a better quality of life, whilst almost a quarter said it would be to spend time with family.

Just six per cent thought that flexible working would mean they could enrol in more non-work related activities such as educational courses, whilst a paltry three per cent cited a desire to enjoy long weekends for travel.

"We are now at a stage of technological development where people can work as effectively from their home or on the move, as they can at a desk in their company's office," Duncan Miller added.

"Of course, flexible or home working is not feasible or suitable for all organisations, but employers should be looking at ways to address the work/life balance of their staff and be very clear on their policy in this area. A happier, healthier workforce can lead to greater productivity in the long term and increase staff retention."