Most staff say flexible working is not available, survey reveals

Almost one in three requests to work flexibly being turned down, as campaigners urge end to ‘outdated’ practices

Almost one in three requests for flexible working are being turned down by employers, a survey has found, renewing calls for legislation to make flexible working the default position among employers.

A poll of 2,700 people, conducted by the TUC, found 30 per cent of all flexible working requests were rejected. Employers can turn down requests if they can offer a legitimate business reason for doing so.

The survey also found 58 per cent of workers in the UK believed flexible working was ‘unavailable’ in their current role. This rose to two-thirds (68 per cent) for those in what the TUC described as ‘working class’ roles in sectors such as retail and social care.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said that the current legislation gave employers “free reign” to turn down requests for flexible working. “Ministers must change the law so that people can work flexibly – regardless of what type of contract they are on,” she said.

“Allowing people more flexibility in how and when they do their work makes them happier and more productive.” 

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said the results came as no surprise given the uptake for flexible working had flatlined in the last decade owing to multiple difficulties encountered inside businesses. 

“We know that there are obstacles in some organisations that mean that flexible working is not available for some, and we also know it is more likely to be managers and white collar professionals who benefit from flexible working policies and practices,” Willmott said.

He added that employers needed to understand the different ways work could be made flexible, and leaders and line managers should understand the business case for flexibility and feel confident managing flexible workers.

The TUC also today announced it was joining the Flex for All alliance, a coalition of campaign groups – including Pregnant Then Screwed and the Fawcett Society – calling on the government to legislate for all roles be offered as flexible from day one of employment. 

The group is supporting a bill currently going through parliament that would oblige employers to make all roles flexible – with employees allowed to choose from a predefined list of flexible arrangements – unless there was a sound business case for why the role could not be carried out flexibly.

The CIPD has also been campaigning to encourage all employers to advertise all job roles as being flexible by using the ‘Happy to talk flexible working’ strapline.

Pregnant Then Screwed founder Joeli Brearley said the TUC research demonstrated that the inability to work flexibly was an unnecessary penalty, and called on organisations to embrace flexible working. 

“Reluctance to move forward into a flexible working space is just going to hold businesses back, as the research highlights a third of your workforce will look for an alternative job if you can’t start to accommodate their needs as a person and as a professional,” said Brearley.  

“With Brexit looming and the war for talent hotting up, it’s time that businesses refreshed their dated practices and took steps towards a work environment that empowers people instead of turning them away.”

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, added that far too many women were unable to get the hours they needed and, as a result, were either being excluded from the labour market or trapped working below their skill level. “We all pay a price for the outdated way we design our workplaces. It’s time for change,” Smethers said.