UK lags Europe in flexible working

UK companies are lagging behind the rest of Europe in taking up flexible working, according to a report from the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).

As many as 40 per cent of employers in Germany, Sweden and Denmark let their employees telework, compared to only 20 per cent of UK employers, the report said.

The report added that while flexibility is on the increase, it's just not happening fast enough. "So far the increase has largely been a flexing of the traditional model of working and this is not enough - more radical transformation is required," it said.

The problem isn't technology but management assumptions, the report said. "Trailblazing employers are offering a wide range of work options, such as teleworking, shift-swapping and interim management. In return, they are reporting increased productivity, improved staff engagement, and are better placed to deal with customer needs," said Jenny Watson, the EOC chair. "But the reality for the majority of British workers is still presenteeism and long hours. The time has now come for this innovation to spread to across the workforce to reach the UK's 29 million workers."

"Flexible working is good for companies, good for the economy, and good for society as a whole," said Conservative leader David Cameron at the report's launch.

Apparently following the lead of Children's Minister Beverly Hughes, he called on regulations to be extended to provide flexible working to all parents - not just those with special needs children.

"First we will work with business, large and small, to make sure that the existing regulations are as simple and easy to implement as possible," he said. "Next, we will extend the legislation on the right to request to all parents. And in Government we will ensure that the public sector - Britain's biggest employer - becomes a world leader in providing flexible working opportunities."

But Cameron and the EOC added that flexible working should not just be limited to families. "But flexible working is still too often seen as just a concession for parents and carers, and comes at the cost of poor pay and prospects," said Watson. "Extending the right to request flexible working to everyone is a crucial step towards breaking this stigma and making a new culture at work a reality."

The body called on government to extend the right to request flexible working to all workers, as well as to offer tax incentives for small- and medium-sized businesses. It also said the government needed to create better off-peak travel and child-care facilities to handle the changes.

The report described four different types of flexible workers: timelords, shift-shapers, time-stretchers and remote-controllers.

Timelords control both their hours and location of work. The EOC said that with changes, there could be four million such workers in the UK.

Shift-shapers have set hours and work at a single location, but have flexible shifts. The 17 million shift-shapers in the UK include shift workers such as nurses, the report said.

The seven million potential time-stretchers work from one location, but have flexible hours, while the one million remote-controllers have set hours but work from flexible locations, such as call centre staff.