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Flexible Working - A success story

The government view

In this article Pat McFadden, former Minister for Employment Relations, sets out the reasons why the government favours flexible working, and is extending the ‘right to request’ flexible working to more people.

Pat McFadden was Minister of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs at the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

(This article was originally published in a supplement we produced distributed with The Times newspaper in June 2008)

Flexible working makes good business sense. The benefits for employees are clear and increased productivity and lower recruitment costs are just two of the direct benefits for business. I strongly believe that flexible working provides businesses the opportunity to adapt to the needs of their employees and thereby retain a highly-skilled, experienced workforce.

There are benefits in terms of reduced vacancy costs, increased skill retention and reduced absenteeism for businesses. I am encouraged that 95% of businesses now offer flexible working arrangements – whether reduced hours, flexi-time or compressed hours.

Instead of business fighting against the change in work patterns, the majority have positive views about promoting the work-life balance.

Indeed, research shows that 92% of employers understand that people work best when they can strike a better balance between work and the rest of their lives. Almost half of new mothers, for example, work flexi-time and the proportion of mums who have changed their employer since returning to work halved from 41% in 2002 to 20% in 2006. And since the formal right to request flexible working was introduced in 2003, only 9% of requests are declined compared with 20% previously.

At present, over six million employees have the right to request flexible working patterns, but some 14 million people actually work flexibly. We have recently announced that we will extend the right to request flexible working to a further 4.5 million parents who have children up to the age of 16, meaning more than 10 million people will be eligible to make a right to request. This extension was borne from a review into flexible working conducted for the Government by Imelda Walsh, HR director of Sainsbury’s.

We will shortly consult on implementing this extension. Our aim is to amend current flexible working regulations with effect from April 2009.

We are also committed to addressing the needs of all workers and we are keen that flexible working should not be considered a 'women's issue'. Of the 14 million employees currently working flexibly the latest figures show men make up 45% of them. The increasing earning power of women also suggests that flexible working now, and in the future, is far from being an issue that affects only women. We will therefore continue to work with business to promote the availability of flexible working for all employees.

It’s clear the benefits of flexible working for employers and their employees go hand-in-hand. Retaining skilled, experienced workers is a key priority for every business. The introduction of flexible working rights has had a positive effect on the UK workforce and I believe will continue to do so.


June 2008




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