More bad news on flexible working

Jan 10 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Employers are failing to communicate flexible working opportunities or even sabotaging them, according to a Mercer HR Consulting study of 3,500 working adults.

The survey found that although nearly all employers (96 per cent) claim that they offer some type of flexible-working arrangements, only 55 per cent of employees say that they are able to work flexibly.

David Tong, senior consultant at Mercer said that company policy on flexible working was either not communicated to employees or sometimes sabotaged by line managers.

”Many organisations fail to clearly communicate their policies or support for flexible working. This information is often buried in a company handbook and seldom sees the light of day.

”Policies that are developed at corporate level may not receive the support needed from line managers, and are sometimes actively resisted,” he said.

One reasons for the gulf between policy and reality seems to be the pressure of inadequate staffing levels. The survey found that 46 per cent of employees feel that staffing levels are insufficient to meet work requirements. As a result, managers are often reluctant to follow official policy on flexible working.

According to David Tong, the best way to tackle this is to involve line managers in the formation of policy from the outset.

”An effective flexible working policy will often involve a major change in management behaviour. Organisations must therefore build support amongst their front-line managers, and this is best achieved by involving them early in policy development,” he said.

The attitude of employers towards flexible working initiatives was explored by a study published earlier this month by IRS Employment Review. This found employers equally split between those who felt that flexible working improved employees retention and working and those that felt that flexible working had a detrimental effect on the workforce and organisation.

The Mercer survey found big variations in support for flexible working across sectors. The most support came from the healthcare sector where 62 per cent report they have the opportunity to work flexibly. But in manufacturing, this figure was only 45 per cent.

IRS revealed that one third of companies have no metrics for determining the effectiveness of any work-life initiatives, relying on anecdotal evidence rather than hard data.

However the Mercer survey has found that flexible working arrangements make a tremendous contribution towards increasing commitment and motivation; 86 per cent of women and 74 per cent of men view flexible working as important in this respect.

”Managers have to view flexible working as a method of supporting their business objectives, rather than as a hindrance to performance...failure to introduce flexible solutions may result in the loss of skilled employees,” Tong warned.