New research finds that businesses are wary of flexible working changes

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Tuesday 07 December 2010

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Small businesses in the West Midlands are concerned about the impact of the government’s plans to extend the right to flexible working according to the findings of a research project at Coventry University.

The right to such arrangements is currently limited to those with responsibility for caring for children under 17 (18 if the young person is disabled) and carers for adults.

The concern about extending this right is highlighted in research undertaken by Jane Johnson, a Research Fellow in the Law School at Coventry University.

The newly published research evaluated responses from employers concerning the law on flexible working, which can offer employees variable hours, changes in shift patterns and the opportunity to work from home for example.

The Coalition government has recently announced that the right to flexible working will be extended from April 2011 to anyone with responsibility for a child under 18.

They are also planning a consultation on further extending the flexible working option to all employees.

Directors and senior managers of over 60 per cent of the 83 businesses surveyed thought that the current rules on flexible working did not hinder the operation of their businesses.

Almost as many (54 per cent) were particularly positive, citing such benefits as increased staff motivation and staff retention.

At the moment, there are strict legal and procedural requirements when an employee applies for flexible working arrangements, though employers have the right to refuse any such request on specified grounds

Over half (52 per cent)  felt that that such  legal procedures, designed to underpin the right to flexible working, were unnecessary because employees would, in most cases, have been allowed to work flexibly anyway.

The research also shows the unpopularity of a further extension of the right with a majority (57 per cent) taking the view that the further extension of the right to flexible working was a step too far because of the administrative burden.

Jane Johnson said:

“The right to request flexible working arrangements is one of a number of moves to improve work/life balance.  However, where the benefits have long been recognised, the need for extending the right is more doubtful in today’s economic climate.

“Many of the businesses we talked to thought that any further extension of flexible working would increase the burden of administration and increase costs at a particularly challenging time for them.”

The research was undertaken for Coventry University Law School and its findings are based on a detailed survey of 83 businesses, drawn from the manufacturing, retail and wholesale sectors.


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