Employers and workers split over flexible working

Jun 25 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Parents and business bosses are split over the benefits of working from home, new research reveals.

According to a study commissioned by Microsoft, flexible working benefits are as high a priority as salary size to working parents. But this demand from parents is causing increasing conflict with the 70 per cent of UK employers who are reluctant to free staff from the office, fearing the impact it will have on productivity and profits.

The survey reveals a rift between workers and employers that is likely to continue to grow as more parents look to take advantage of the flexible working legislation introduced in April. The new law gives all parents with children under six or handicapped children under 18 the right to apply to their employers to work away from the office to better balance work and childcare demands.

With 3.7 million UK parents falling into this category, the legislation is expected to make a major impact on business culture

Mike Pryke-Smith, medium business marketing manager at Microsoft, said UK businesses needed to wake up to the reality and benefits of flexible working.

“I know from experience that bringing up children is a full time job in itself, parents need help balancing the 24/7 with 9-to-5 and business really needs to consider this.

“Introducing flexi-working will mean a major cultural change for an organisation, but if in the long term it helps the business benefit more from a 3.7 million strong, highly skilled workforce, then that’s a change for the better,” he said.

In January the Social Market Foundation released data the suggested that while flexible working could increase productivity by up to 30 per cent, employer trust remained a significant barrier to companies allowing staff to work from home. The UK's culture of 'presenteeism' also led many employers to view flexible working as a euphemism for shirking.

Other research has found that although nearly all employers claim that they offer some type of flexible-working arrangements, only just over half of employees say that they are able to work flexibly. One of the main reasons for the gulf between policy and reality is the pressure of inadequate staffing levels.

But the Microsoft study claims that firms which had introduced flexible working policies had reported a number of advantages such as higher productivity, greater job satisfaction, lower staff turnover and lower absenteeism.

“Now that government legislation is in place flexible working is here to stay, two months on parents are obviously keen to embrace it but for businesses the move towards a flexi-working policy is still clearly a difficult decision.

“Flexi-working can certainly make a big difference to the culture of a business but predominately in a positive ways – there are clear long term benefits that I would urge employers to grasp now,” added Pryke-Smith.