By Claire West

Over half of employers (55 per cent) welcome plans by the Government to introduce legislation requiring them to offer flexible working to all employees, according to research out today from Hays, the leading recruiting expert. Seventy per cent expect an increase in requests for flexible working and nearly 40 per cent are bracing themselves for a resulting impact on their budgets.

The survey of over 680 workers and 420 employers undertaken by Hays in June 2010 found that more private sector employers expect an increase in their costs if staff take up the offer of flexible working than in the public sector (44 per cent, compared to 33 per cent).

Employers offer flexible working primarily as way of supporting their employees, with just 18 per cent reporting it is just to comply with existing legislation. Only 29 per cent feel offering flexible working is integral to the success of their business.

From the perspective of employees, almost half of all workers (46 per cent) say their current employer does not encourage flexible working, rising to over half in the private sector. Furthermore, some of the options most sought after by employees are the ones they believe are unavailable.

How far are companies prepared to go in using flexible working to retain staff? An overwhelming 85 per cent of staff say that if their employer were to introduce more flexible working options, such as working from home or job shares, they would be more likely to stay with them. Not surprisingly, 95 per cent of staff say flexible working improves work-life balance and over 20 per cent see these policies as an “essential” when choosing a job.

Again, the public sector scores better among its employees, with 35 per cent reporting their employer encourages flexible working for all employees, compared to just 18 per cent in the private sector.

Charles Logan, Director at Hays, commented: “Employers and their staff see flexible working policies as a positive move but more needs to be done to make sure these are implemented in the workplace. Our research indicates that employers offer flexible working options to support their employees, with a comparatively small number saying they adopt flexible working simply to conform to current legislation. The research shows clear evidence that flexible working can improve productivity and work-balance, if employers can make the types most desired by staff available.”

Workers report that the main reason they have used flexible working is to gain more personal time (35 per cent) and to cope with care arrangements for children or elderly relatives (29 per cent) — a trend only set to increase with future demographic changes. Over half of employees say the practice of working from home increases their productivity levels and report that they have the technology in place to allow them to do so.

“As pay freezes remain in place for many organisations, across both sectors, looking at how to retain your staff and keep them engaged is moving up the agenda. Offering simple flexible working options could make the difference between keeping or losing staff at a critical time, when the best employees are needed to drive recovery,” added Logan.

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