Flexible working survey from Orange highlights big business concerns over informal policies

In a survey on flexible working by communications giant Orange, leading businesses have warned other companies offering informal flexible working arrangements to staff that they may be “sleepwalking” towards major problems.

Research by communications giant Orange revealed that one in four UK workers has an informal agreement with their employer on flexible working. This compared to 29% having a formal approach to flexible working, and 47% having no flexible working arrangements at all.

An informal procedures may make it hard for all parties to know the ground rules or discover how much flexibility is too much, Orange warned.

Philip Goad, a consultant who worked on the report, said: “Employers who simply permit or tolerate flexibility, but do not issue any clarification in this area, may be sleepwalking into unforeseen issues.”

Simon Kingsnorth, HR business partner at First Direct bank, which has more than 70% of staff in part-time roles, echoed this warning. “Informal systems for flexibility can cause inconsistency across the business, where potentially two people in similar roles have different levels of flexibility,” he said. “This may lead to some staff being scared to ask whether they have the right to more flexibility.”

He added: “Formal procedures offer clarity – staff know what they are getting into and managers know what coverage they will get in the office.”

The government should change the law so that all staff have the right to request flexible working, he added.

A spokesman for telecoms giant BT, a pioneer of flexible working, also said a more formalised approach was desirable. Both BT and First Direct offer all staff the right to request flexible working, regardless of whether they are parents or carers.

Flexible working campaigners have been boosted by the appointments of Harriet Harman and Hazel Blears to prime minister Gordon Brown’s new Cabinet. Both have been strong advocates of extending the right to request to all employees.

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