Trust gap holding back flexible working

Jun 14 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

An archaic office-bound, nine-to-five work mentality is putting business productivity is at risk because Britain's employers still won't trust their staff to work flexibly.

That's the message from research by Microsoft and pollster YouGov which has found that bosses' mistrust of flexible working is forcing more than 70 per cent of employees in Britain to needlessly travel an additional 45 minutes during rush hour each day, raking up an average of 15 hours of wasted time per worker each month.

According to the report only a third of the UK's workforce is offered flexible working options.

As a result, nearly 15 per cent of Britain's workforce is late for work at least once or twice a week as a result of peak hour congestion and delays.

Simply by avoiding travel during rush hour, employees could cut their commute and put the additional time towards something more beneficial like career development or leisure time spent with friends and family, Microsoft claim.

And according to a report by the RAC Foundation, peak traffic could also be cut by 10 per cent over the next five years through flexible working.

But while Microsoft encouraged British business to adopt a more flexible

approach by letting staff work from home for the first and last hour of each working day, much work remains to be done if the attitude that flexibility is a 'soft option' is to be changed.

As research from business communications provider Inter-Tel found earlier this week, six out of 10 Britons still believe that asking their boss for more flexible working practices would damage their career prospects and four out of 10 feel distrusted by employer to work from home.

Yet changes to working practice would not be difficult to implement. According to Microsoft, more than nine out of 10 employees already have access to an internet-enabled home computer.

In addition, almost four out of 10 staff now spend the first hour of their working day catching up on email - a task which is not location-dependent.

"Obviously not every sector is suited to flexible working, but by allowing appropriate employees to bypass the rush hour grind, their job satisfaction, productivity, performance and ultimately commitment to their employer could be improved, all positive contributors to a business's bottom line," said Microsoft's Allister Frost.

"While many employers are beginning to talk up the opportunity for flexible working it appears that a lack of trust is inhibiting them from grasping the opportunity with both hands.

"The technology already exists to enable people to take a more flexible approach to their work and with the trust of their employers, staff could enjoy a better work/life balance whilst delivering optimum performance."

Dr Carsten Sorensen of the Department of Information Systems at London School of Economics said that Britian's legions of office workers need a new deal.

"We cannot assume as white collar workers we have complete freedom. However, bosses cannot manage as they have before by command and control Ė there is simply too much information in a modern technology-driven service economy.

"Outdated management practices are contributing to the continuing productivity gap between the UK and continental Europe. We need to trust people more."