One in every three UK requests for flexible working is being turned down, according to new figures published today by the TUC. 
Based on a poll of 2,700 workers across a range of demographics, the research reveals that flexi-time is unavailable to more than half (58%) of the UK workforce – rising to almost two thirds (64%) for employees in working-class communities. In addition, almost three in 10 – or 28% – of workers say that their desire to work flexibly is one of the main reasons why they may look for another job.
With those figures in mind, the TUC has announced that it has joined the Flex For All alliance to push for flexible working as a Day One right that every employee in Britain should enjoy.
Comprised of several campaigning organisations and websites – including the Fawcett Society, Pregnant Then Screwed, the Young Women’s Trust, the Fatherhood Institute and the popular blog Mother Pukka, run by journalist Anna Whitehouse – Flex For All has launched a petition addressed to business secretary Greg Clark, saying: “We want to change the law so that employers MUST publish flexible working options in job adverts, or justify why the job can’t be done flexibly … so that if you took the job you would have the right to work flexibly, as advertised, from Day One.” 
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Flexible working should be a day one right that’s available to everyone. But under current law bosses have free rein to turn down requests. It’s not right that millions are struggling to balance their work and home lives. Ministers must change the law so that people can work flexibly – regardless of what type of contract they are on. Allowing people more flexibility in how and when they do their work makes them happier and more productive.”
Should flexible working be a Day One right for every employee in the UK?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Calls for flexible working so often come from parent-interest groups, and of course, they are very important voices. But the debate is actually bigger than that. What we’re talking about here is the whole idea of being trusted to deliver a certain amount of work – or a particular service – to a high standard, within acceptable time frames. A willingness and ability to do so is very much the behaviour of a fully engaged employee who cares about what they’re doing. If the quid pro quo for that is the scope to manage your life around that central premise, then it puts a different complexion on flexible working.”
Cooper notes: “We must bear in mind the issues around a zero-sum approach. If some people’s desire to work flexibly is driven by stringent requirements to ensure that their holidays coincide with school breaks, or that they can always finish at 3pm – which are the sorts of things that a lot of the parental groups are calling for – then other people in the organisation will have to pick up the slack. So, until we see flexible working in the round – as something that hinges upon co-dependencies between staff, and the ability of organisations to provide appropriate coverage for workloads – it will continue to produce sticking points.”
She adds: “Frances O’Grady says that flexible working helps employees to be happier and more productive. We need a strong evidence base for that, because as with so many workplace initiatives or changes in working methods, if there’s a firm business case for it, then it’s much easier to make it happen. It’s also far more likely that it will happen. The real supporters of flexible working are those who are able to see that it has to make sense for everyone concerned, so that organisations have the resources to meet their commitments to customers.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on time management