Why is flexible working still a dirty word for businesses?

New research shows the government's 'right to request' law isn't going far enough. Startups' explores why employers need to, and how they can, step up

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The majority of UK employees are too scared to request flexible working from their employer for fear of being viewed negatively,  research published today by Digital Mums asserts.

Based on a survey of 2,094 UK employees and those not in work, the research found that flexible working – dubbed the ‘F word’ – is particularly avoided by millennial employees aged 18-34 with 40% saying they’d be too nervous or worried to ask for flexible working – despite 77% wanting to work in this way.

And it’s not just employees that are steering clear from raising the F word, employers are ignoring the issue too.

68% of the employees surveyed said their employer did not provide access to flexible working but employers are missing a trick as flexible working could be the solution to attracting talent. Why? 70% of UK consumers not currently in work said they’d be more likely to apply for a role that offers flexible hours as opposed to the traditional ‘9 to 5’ (rising to 75% for millennials).

Flexible working: Employers are missing a trick

What’s more, the research found that 61% of employees would be more productive if they could work flexibly and 67% argued they would be more loyal to a business if they could work flexibly (rising to 73% for millennial employees).

This news comes three years on from the introduction of the government’s ‘right to request’ law in 2014 which gave everyone in the UK the legal right to request flexible working from their employers.

On the back of the research, Digital Mums – a start-up which benefits from a 100% flexible working policy – has argued that this law isn’t going “any near far enough to remove the barrier to a more flexible way of working more in tune with today’s technology and entrepreneurial workforce”. It suggests that, today, businesses still view flexible working as a “dirty word and an employee perk”:

“We need employers to wake up to fact that flexible working is about attracting and retaining a generation of workers who are being failed by a rigid and restrictive ‘9 to 5 coat-on-chair’ culture.”

To encourage a step change, Digital Mums has launched a petition titled #WorkThatWorks to change the government’s definition of flexible working to focus on “work that works for employees and businesses” in order to “clean up the F-word and change the way we work forever”.

Rajesh Agrawal, London’s deputy mayor of business, has supported the campaign and hopes “more businesses [will] recognise the benefits,  and dispel some of the myths, about flexible working practices.”

How can businesses embrace the F-word?

Alongside signing the petition, there a number of ways employers can clean up the F-word and adopt flexible working:

  • An obvious solution: Offer staff the ability to work from home and offer flexible hours outside of the ‘9-5’.
  • Adopt an open conversation policy when it comes to flexible working. Don’t let stigma get in the way.
  • Create a flexible working atmosphere through office location. In its recent guide on how to Think flexible, work smarter, Regus argued that employers using co-working spaces benefit from the “social buzz of an office without restricting employees to fixed hours and routines”.
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