The extent to which flexible working is provided by employers in the UK has been unveiled in a groundbreaking new report by the British Chambers of Commerce.

‘Work and Life: How business is striking the right balance’ provides the first overview of what British businesses are actually doing to meet the work life balance needs of their employees. There is an assumption amongst politicians from across the political spectrum that business has to be forced to be flexible through regulation yet this research turns perceived wisdom on its head.

Amongst the key findings are:

  • 89 per cent of the businesses surveyed provide their employees with some form of flexible working.
  • 72 per cent offer part time working; 69 per cent offer variable working hours; 38 per cent offer working from home.
  • 71 per cent of employers believe that there has been either some or a significant improvement in employee relations as a result of offering flexible working.
  • 60 per cent of employers reported some or a significant improvement in staff retention.
  • 58 per cent of employers reported some or a significant improvement in productivity.

Interestingly, the reason why politicians may seem so keen to regulate is the fact that businesses are poor at celebrating their own achievements. As many as 84 per cent of respondents do not have a formal written ‘work-life balance’ policy, helping to explain the perception gap that exists between what employers are actually doing and what politicians assume they are doing.

The reason that employers gave for not offering flexible working shows the folly of trying to impose a one-size fits all approach on business:

  • 56 per cent highlighted the difficulty in achieving business growth with a reorganised workload and resources.
  • 32 per cent cited a desire to be fair to all employees.
  • 21 per cent cited the administrative burden of new policies as being a barrier to providing flexible working.

Instead of legislating it is clear that businesses need practical guidance about how they can work more flexibly at low cost. Without the HR support that large firms have, SME’s need business support schemes tailored specifically to their needs.

Sally Low, Director of Policy and External Affairs at the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

“This report clearly shows how disconnected politicians are from the reality of the UK’s workplaces.

“Business is well ahead of the current debate. The overwhelming majority of respondents to our survey are embracing flexibility because they understand clearly the benefits of providing flexible working to their employees, reporting improvements in employee relations, staff retention and productivity.

“The debate now needs to shift away from what employers are not doing to focus on what they are and try to identify the real barriers to greater flexibility. Those who aren’t providing flexibility for their staff lack the management confidence to restructure the way they manage their staff, only advice and support will rectify this while further regulation will impose a needless and onerous burden”.