Flexible firms win loyalty and talent

Flexible working has never had an easy ride, but rumblings of a business backlash will make debates on this issue even feistier.

If you listen to business groups, particularly those representing smaller firms, work-life balance is becoming weighted far too heavily in favour of life to the detriment of work. Enough is enough, they cry, as they urge the government to resist stretching that flexibility too far in case businesses go snap. To back up their argument, they cite the failure of the French 35-hour working week as an example of how burdensome flexible working can be.

But listen to HR professionals, and they want flexible working to be extended to all (it came fourth in the wish list of government priorities in our recent reader poll), not to mention the vast number of employees who now expect it as part of their package.

But isn’t this argument about the cost of work-life balance missing the point?

Flexible working has some pretty compelling business benefits that go far beyond those nice-to-have perks like gym membership, massages and snazzy offices.

Attraction and retention are the toughest things to get right. Devising and delivering flexible working patterns could attract some top-notch talent that might not otherwise have considered working for your company. And it could help engender the kind of loyalty and employee engagement to which every business boss aspires.

It’s up to HR to articulate these benefits as companies tussle with their flexible working policies. And that’s not all. With the precedent set by the British Airways pilot who won her case after having her request for part-time working refused, companies will now need some bullet-proof justifications for turning down similar requests in the future.

Otherwise, the resulting compensation claims may be an even scarier cost to UK businesses.


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