Bosses approve of new flexible working rights

Businesses have responded positively to new family-friendly working practices and are not deterred by the costs, according to a survey that has reviewed the impact of the flexible working regulations introduced in April 2003.

According to research conducted by City law firm Lovells and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), nine out of 10 employers said that they had had no significant problems complying with the new right to ask for flexible working, and cost was “an issue” for just 13 per cent. The survey, based on responses from more than 500 organisations, revealed that almost two out of three employers that received statutory requests have agreed to at least half of them. There was broad support for the reforms, with 60 per cent of employers saying that the family-friendly rights did not tip the balance too far in favour of working parents.

Before the right to request flexible working was introduced, there were widespread concerns that the rights would mean more red tape for business with little benefits. David Harper, head of Lovells’ specialist employment practice, said that six months on “it seems that the new right usually does not present employers with serious problems, and may even bring benefits”.

“Anything that improves productivity, staff retention and workplace morale must be worthwhile, when stress and sickness-related absences are growing problems,” he added.

Mike Emmott, the CIPD’s head of employee relations, said the research gave “no support to the cynics, who argued that a right to request flexible working would be entirely ineffectual, or to those critics who feared it would be costly to apply”. “Employers are using the law to reinforce existing good practice,” he said. “The legislation seems to have struck about the right balance between encouragement and enforcement.”

Just under half of organisations (47 per cent) reported that many employees who are not entitled to the right resent those who are. However, most employers were receptive to the idea of a universal right to ask for flexible working, with over 70 per cent of all employers willing to consider requests from all staff.