Flexible working statistics show popularity of new laws

On
the first anniversary of laws giving parents of young children the right to
request flexible working the Government has released new statistics suggesting
the legislation is working well for both employers and staff.

A
year after its introduction, some groups are now calling for the rules to be
extended to cover parents of older children, workers caring for elderly
relatives and even all employees.

The
changes, brought in last April under the Employment Act 2002, gave parents of
children under the age of six (or disabled children under the age of 18) the
right to have flexible working requests seriously considered.

The
Government’s position

Trade
and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt has released figures showing that 77 per
cent of employees requesting flexible working were granted it by their employer.

She
said the new laws had been communicated effectively with 58 per cent of parents
who qualify for the rights aware of the legislation.

The
survey of around 3,500 employees also shows that sales and customer service staff
the most likely to request flexible working.

Since
April 2003, the number of requests being declined by employers has halved –
from 20 per cent to 11 per cent – with women more inclined to ask for greater
flexibility.

Four
in 10 employees wanted flexible working for childcare reasons, with 53 per cent
of women doing so on these grounds.

“With
more women in work than ever before, employers cannot afford to ignore the
benefits of flexible working including recruitment, retention and staff morale.
Employers have sent out a signal of support for flexible working and this
should give more parents the confidence to raise the issue with their boss,”
said Hewitt.

The
management view

Last
year a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)
and law firm Lovells found that employers had largely welcomed the legislation.

Nine
out of 10 of those questioned reported no significant problems with the rights
while 70 per cent said they were willing to consider requests from all staff – not
just those with children under six.

According
to the poll, 68 per cent felt the opportunity to work flexibly had a positive
impact on employee attitudes and morale.

Mike
Emmott, head of employee relations at the CIPD said: “Work-life balance
policies are basically good management; they are about treating people with
fairness and respect.”

The
employer perspective

IT
firm Hewlett Packard (HP) has been offering flexible working for several years
and claims to have reaped the benefits through increased productivity.

HR
director Mike Taylor said that allowing staff to strike a better work-life
balance HP had also improved staff turnover and reduced absenteeism.

“Recruitment
and retention has also become more cost effective because enabling staff to
work flexibly is seen as a major attraction," he said. "Flexible
working is often the key to unlocking a really satisfying work-life balance and
tends to make staff more enthusiastic brand ambassadors.

“British
workers are putting in more hours than any other nationality in Europe, so
potentially stand to gain the most from flexible working. We’ve been using it
to help deliver business success for ourselves and our customers,” he added.

Europe

A
survey by law firm Eversheds shows the UK still lags behind many European
countries when it comes to flexible working.

The
study found that major European competitors including Germany, The Netherlands,
Italy and Spain all provide employees with a legal right to request more
flexible working arrangements.

However,
most European countries have gone further than the UK and offer a greater
degree of flexibility.

Stefan
Corbanie, a partner at Evershed’s Brussels office said: “Our research shows
provision of flexible working rights varies across Europe, but it seems that
the UK is not the best place to be if you want to enjoy a more flexible
approach."

In
countries including Italy, Germany and Belgium all workers are entitled to
request the right to work flexibly.

“However,
the UK compares favourably to some countries and is ahead of many nations in
other areas," Corbanie said.

The
pressure groups

Organisations
including the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and the charity Working
Families are calling for the legislation to be extended to cover more workers.

The
Parents’ and Carers’ Coalition wants wider access to flexible working practices
for women and men in all types of jobs.

Julie
Mellor, chair of the EOC wants greater rights for fathers to spend more time
with their children.

She
also wants better provisions for employees caring for ill, older or disabled
relatives.

Working
Families believes many employers are flaunting the existing rules and is urging
the Government to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees.

By
Ross Wigham

 

 

 

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