CBI welcomes increased flexibility in recession

The CBI has praised employers for harnessing a more flexible working culture during the recession and improving industrial relations.

The new Employment Trends survey of over 700 employers, conducted by the business group and recruitment consultancy Harvey Nash, found that 45% had increased flexible working and just under a quarter intended to do this in the future.

The rise in flexible working – including offering different working hours, extra holiday and staff taking on more flexible job roles – was most prevalent in the construction and public sectors, where 86% and three quarters of employers respectively had made or planned to make changes.

John Cridland, deputy director-general of the CBI, told Personnel Today there had been a “remarkable solidarity between employers and employees during the recession,” and the increase in flexible working was reprentative of a long-term trend.

The news came despite continuing wildcat stikes over pay and jobs at power plants including the Lindsey oil refinery which, Cridland said, were “atypical”.

“While pay and recruitment freezes should disappear as the economy recovers, the spirit of flexibility and the willingness of many staff to engage positively with employers on these issues will hopefully be a more permanent benefit of the UK economy,” he said.

Cridland added that the public sector, in particular, would start to look more at flexible working options to limit job losses in the next five years.

He said: “I think there’s a lot of workforce flexibility in the public sector already, but it’s largely for the benefit of the employees at the moment. I think we will see more flexible working designed for the direct benefit of organisations.”

The survey also found 44% of companies had been forced to cut their training budgets. However, almost half of employers were providing on-the-job training or training internally to lower the costs.

More than half of employers (58%) had maintained apprenticeships schemes – with 10% having expanded them – while just under a quarter of firms were downsizing their schemes.

Cridland said: “In previous recessions training budgets would have been cut but so would training activity. Now training budgets have had to be cut but training activity continues to be a priority.”

The survey also revealed:

  • 61% of employers are operating a recruitment freeze
  • 38% of employers have frozen graduate recruitment and a further 10% are recruiting fewer graduates
  • 26% of employers have moved work overseas or plan to in the near future in response to the downturn, with the IT, technology and science sectors the most likely to do this.

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