Why now's the time to deliver on flexible working [new research]

22 April 2016 -


British workers want flexible working. In fact, more than one in five workers would take a pay cut in return for reduced hours, according to a new report by the Centre for the Modern Family

Jermaine Haughton

Enshrined in UK legislation for the past two years, employees in Britain have the statutory right to request the opportunity to work remotely.

Traditionally, flexible working has largely been the domain of carers, particularly mothers of young children, but this is rapidly changing. Increased mobility, technological advances that make remote working easier, and demographic shifts are driving the demand for all employees to want to work flexibly.

Academics at Lancaster University believe the trend will continue to grow sharply with more than 50% of businesses adopting it by the end of next year, and 70% by 2020.

Critics, however, believe that Britain still has a lack of flexible working options, with just 6.2% of quality job vacancies in the UK mentioning flexible working, despite 46% of people in employment admitting they want to work flexibly to fit with modern life.

In particular, a report from the Centre for the Modern Family (CMF) pointed to flexible working as one of the key measures employers should look to to address a need for a greater work/life balance for employees.

With earnings at a standstill for many workers, the report suggests that a significant proportion of workers are focusing on maximising their time, as well as their salary: some 21% would accept lower pay if they were able to work fewer hours and just 41% of workers think a pay rise would help solve their work/family balance issues. Less than a third (31%) are looking for better benefits.

More needs to be done

Many employees believe their bosses could be doing more to help them counter the issue of poor work/life balance, mainly by giving them greater flexibility and control over how they work.

Some 60% of employees want their employers to offer flexible working hours to help them achieve a better work/family balance and 47% want the flexibility to work from home. Separation between work and home life is important too – half of all workers (50%) say they want to be able to leave work at the office and a reduction in the amount of unnecessary time dedicated to working life is also a factor, with almost as many (49%) citing the desire to travel to and from work easily.

CMI’s Quality of Working Life report found that 54% of managers said that long working hours increase levels of stress in workers.

The report shows that by eating into the time available to relax, exercise and socialise, long-hours prevent managers being able to unwind. Managers surveyed for the study report a link between working longer hours and suffering from increased headaches, irritability and insomnia, early symptoms of mental health problems and potential burnout.

CMI chief executive Ann Francke said that a lack of professional management was to blame for this excessive working, with “accidental managers” unequipped to balance the needs of their team members with the needs of the organisation.

“There’s nothing wrong with hard graft, but only if you’re well supported,” she said. “Accidental managers who lack the professional skills to deal with the causes of burnout are a threat to their health and others’ at work.

“Productivity will also continue to suffer unless employers train their managers to prevent overwork and strike the necessary work/life balance.”

Any action managers take to boost work flexibility for workers, however, must be proactive and well-communicated, the CMF concludes.

The problem is not that employers aren’t willing to help, but that employees don’t realise what is available.

Three times as many workers believe employers offer limited support and flexibility as the number of employers that concede this is the case. And while more than half of employers (58%) say they offer workers the same levels of support regardless of their family circumstances, just one in four (26%) workers believe all employees are treated in the same way.