Employers out of step on flexible working

Dec 07 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Two thirds of Britons want to work flexibly, but half are worried that to do so could harm their careers because their organisations are stuck in the mindset that productivity is somehow linked to presence.

New research from Eclipse Internet highlights that while there is a growing groundswell of support for flexible working, significant work to be done to change the attitudes of employers before it is accepted as normal working practice.

Yet with eight out of 10 Britons now believing that flexible working would improve quality time with children, boost their productivity and increases loyalty, the research also suggests that companies risk alienating large parts of the workforce and losing valuable employees by not responding to the desire for greater flexibility.

The situation is so bad in some organisations that a quarter of workers regard flexible working as a taboo subject, while fewer than half of those surveyed have any flexible working policy in their company.

Less than one in 10 (eight per cent) of those surveyed believe that there are no restrictions to them working flexibly.

The benefits of working flexibly were evident to the vast majority of those questioned, with almost three-quarters believing that it would give them more quality family time, better productivity at work and increased company loyalty. Just 15 per cent thought that it is an option for 'skiving off'.

Across the UK, research has found that three-quarters of those making a request to flexi-work are women even though almost two-thirds of men are keen to work flexibly.

While this is not surprising, the disparity between the desire to work flexibly and actual uptake is interesting given that eight out of 10 workers polled believe it is equally important to both genders.

Legally, both men and women have rights regarding flexi-working, with all parents with children under the age of six having the right to request to work flexibly.

Yet the Eclipse research found that three years on, understanding is still extremely poor with only one in four people knowing what the legislation means. Nearly half of those surveyed thought, incorrectly, that the legislation was actually relevant to all workers, not just parents.

Barriers to flexi-working across the UK, besides office culture, are complex. However, one of the major reasons cited by both men and women surveyed is technology. Over half suggested that their companies aren't willing to provide the technology and connectivity they need to work from home.

After technology, women were mostly likely to consider that businesses being 'stuck in the dark ages and averse to change' impacted the uptake of flexi-working, while men considered that it is due to companies just not trusting their employees.

Mark Thomas, Sales Manager of UK ISP Eclipse Internet, said: "We are seeing a marked difference between the number of people wanting to work flexibly and those who can. Although it is most important for those with children, to help them juggle their childcare and workload, flexi-working is gaining popularity rapidly across the board.

With the benefits of increasing productivity, and in an active recruitment climate, there are many reasons why businesses should seriously consider equipping employees to work flexibly."