Despite protestations of doom from some employers’ groups, the flexible working regulations introduced in the UK in April 2003 have proved to be both user-friendly and well-received, according to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and law firm Lovells.
But the survey of more than 500 organisations has also revealed that the take-up of the new right has been heavily skewed in favour of women - more than half the employers who have received statutory requests since April have received no requests at all from men.
‘A Parent’s Right to Ask’ reveals that almost two in three employers who have received statutory requests have agreed to at least half of them, either in the form submitted by employees or in modified form. And significantly, some seven out of ten employers believe that the opportunity to work flexibly has had a positive effect on employee attitudes and morale
Nine out of ten employers say they have had no significant problems complying with the new right to ask, with cost proving to be an issue for only 13 per cent. And six out of ten employers say that the current package of family friendly rights has not tipped the balance too far in favour of working parents - underlining support for the new right.
Just under half of organisations report that many employees who are not entitled to the right resent those who are. However, most employers are receptive to the idea of a universal right to ask for flexible working, with over seven out of ten employers willing to consider requests from all staff.
It also appears that it is not just clerical workers (44%) who are exercising their right to ask for flexible working. More than a quarter of professionals, and one in five managers and technical staff are also taking up their rights.
Commenting on the findings, Mike Emmott, the CIPD’s Head of Employee Relations says, "It is still early days, but this evidence suggests that the impact of the new right on both employers and employees is seen as overwhelmingly positive.
“In our view, the evidence gives no support to the cynics who argued that a right to request flexible working would be entirely ineffectual, or to those critics who feared it would be costly to apply,” he continued. “Employers are using the law to reinforce existing good practice. The legislation seems to have struck about the right balance between encouragement and enforcement.
Emmott also reiterated his belief that new legal right to request flexible working should apply to all employees, not just to parents.
“In the light of these research findings, we believe that judgement was right. The Government will need to consider this option when it reviews the legislation three years after its introduction."
In May 2003, a report by the Institute of Directors attacked those calling for more flexible working benefits as “subliminally anti-business” and “hell-bent on demonising the workplace”.
But as David Harper, head of Lovells' specialist employment practice pointed out, the reverse has proven to be true.
"Six months on, it seems that the new right usually does not present employers with serious problems and may even bring benefits," he said.
"Anything which improves productivity, staff retention, and workplace morale must be worthwhile, when stress and sickness-related absences are growing problems."