Flexible Working – one year on

Just
over 12 months ago, many employees were given the right to request flexible
working. Parents of children under six or disabled children under 18 have had
the right to apply to work flexibly and their employers will have a duty to
consider these requests seriously. The scheme is set to be reviewed in two
years, but Quentin Reade finds that it has been so successful that some
commentators are already calling for it to be extended to all staff.

A
survey published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)
last week shows that two-thirds of UK organisations support proposals for
extending flexible working legislation to include more people, and 46 per cent
would like to see the right offered to all workers.

Mike
Emmott, CIPD head of employee relations, said: “When the legal right for
parents to request flexible working arrangements was introduced last year, the
CIPD urged that it should apply to all employees.

“In
the light of these research findings, and taking into account the other
evidence we have about the way in which employers and workers are responding to
the legislation, we have no doubt that judgement was right. The Government will
need to consider this option very seriously when it completes its intended
review of the legislation in two years’ time.”

Emmott
adds: “The way the legislation is framed seems to have struck the right balance
between encouragement and enforcement, with employers currently using the
existing flexible working laws to reinforce good practice. We see no reason why
the right should not be extended to all workers so as to provide reassurance
that no group of workers is being unfairly treated.”

Others
agree. Business and financial advisers, Grant Thornton, has urged law firms to
do more to help partners and staff find an appropriate work-life balance.

The
company recently polled the views of more than 100 managing partners and
finance directors of mid-sized and large law firms around the UK and found that
just 20 per cent of firms offer their staff flexible working conditions and
only a further 22 per cent allow sabbaticals for partners.

Head
of Grant Thornton’s professional practices team, Roger Zair, said: “While there
clearly are a number of firms committed to improving the work-life balance for
staff, these figures reveal that many organisations still have some way to go.”

His
comments are backed by a survey of more than 20,000 managers published last
week by the Chartered Management Institute and survey company Remuneration
Economics.

Their
survey shows while there have been major changes to lifestyles and employee
reward schemes since the survey began 30 years ago, many ‘new’ ways of
structuring employees’ hours have gone unchanged. Just one in five employers
now offer some form of provision for childcare, and four in 10 still have no
form of flexible working on offer.

To
date, the right to request flexible working seems to be working reasonably
well. A survey by the Maternity Alliance of more than 100 parents found that 68
per cent of had their request agreed or ‘reached a compromise’. However, 27 per
cent of these parents had suffered detrimental treatment, being forced to
accept a cut in pay, a demotion or heavy workloads in order to secure some
flexibility in workload.

The
Maternity Alliance, in it’s report ‘Happy Anniversary? The right to request
flexible work one year on’, notes that many employers haven’t followed the
correct procedure when asked.

Julie
Mellor, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), claims low-paid
working parents and carers are part of the UK’s new underclass of workers, and
is so concerned about the pay and career prospects of workers with caring
responsibilities who can’t work the traditional nine-to-five, that she and the
EOC have decided to launch a major new investigation.

The
EOC says almost four in 10 mothers, one in 10 fathers and almost one in five
carers have either given up or turned down a job because of their caring
responsibilities.

www.dti.gov.uk/er/flexible.htm

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