Millions can work flexible hours under new rules

Productivity and happiness will increase and put an end to 'presenteeism', say ministers

Flexible working will become the norm in all offices, with Britain's workforce happier as a result of the "end of presenteeism", the minister in charge of new rules claims today.

A revolution in the way we go to work starts tomorrow, with 20 million employees across the country entitled to ask for flexible hours, including working from home. Employers will be obliged to consider requests reasonably, and millions are expected to take advantage of the changes.

Jo Swinson, the employment relations minister, told The Independent on Sunday that the changes would boost the economy because productivity would rise with a happier workforce.

But business groups are cautious about the measure, warning that it could be hard for employers to prioritise if they are inundated with requests.

Until now, only parents and employees with other caring duties – about 10 million people – have had the right to request flexible working. Under this measure, three out of five requests have been granted, with a further one in four approved after negotiation.

In an interview with The IoS the Lib Dem minister says: "Sometimes, because this has been a right to request that only parents have had, that can create, in some workplaces, a bit of tension when parents get special treatment."

She said the new rules could involve compressed hours, where individuals do five days' work in four, staggered hours to avoid the stresses of rush hour, or working from home.

"Employers often find that this leads to employees being much more motivated, productive, less likely to leave. So that cuts down their staff recruitment costs. It really can be a win-win," she said.

"You get staff that are happy and more productive and the employers benefit from that as well. And lots of businesses are very positive about this; in a British Chambers of Commerce survey, 70 per cent of businesses reported an improvement in employee relations when they used flexible working.

"We live in a globalised society, we have technology which enables us to be doing work not just from physically being there at the workplace but actually doing so at different times of the day and from different places.

"And rather than it staying stuck in a 1950s mind-set that being at work is about physically being somewhere and it's about long hours and that 'presenteeism' culture, actually it's about achieving what you're supposed to do in your job and doing that in the most effective way. So flexibility isn't a special case; flexibility is just the way that organisations work and they recognise that they can benefit from that."

Ms Swinson acknowledged that there would be some sectors, such as retail, where flexible working would not be practical.

But she added: "A large amount of evidence that shows flexible working is beneficial for the economy.

Neil Carberry, the CBI director for employment and skills, said business welcomed the new rules but added: "It's important to remember that the work still needs to be done, so businesses will have to manage conflicting requests effectively and they retain the right to say no where the company just can't make it work."

John Allan, the national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "Many small businesses already offer flexible working and recognise the benefits of doing so … without the need for a 'right to request'. However, because of the nature of these businesses, there may be occasions where employers have to turn down a request, potentially leaving the staff member unhappy."

Adam Marshall, the director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "The new rules make it harder for employers to prioritise requests. They cannot prioritise one employee over another, whereas before you could prioritise those who had childcare responsibilities or carer responsibilities."

However Rachel Jones, the owner of Fit 'N' Fun Kids in Falmouth, Cornwall, said flexible working was "the sole reason for the success of my company.

"Flexible working hours means that we can manage the working hours of our staff to reduce the chance of them leaving, to reduce their stress levels and keep them working for us for as long as possible.

"Managing your workforce is crucial to growth. Yes there's a cost, yes there's a time impact, but in the long run it's going to support the growth of the business."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Sport
Raheem Sterling of Liverpool celebrates scoring the opening goal
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

Rebranding Christmas

More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up
A Greek island - yours for the price of a London flat

A sun-kissed island - yours for the price of a London flat

Cash-strapped Greeks are selling off their slices of paradise
Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

New system means that evergreen songs could top the festive charts
Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence

Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys

He is a musician of wondrous oddity. He is on a perpetual quest to seek the lost tribes of the Welsh diaspora. Just don't ask Gruff Rhys if he's a national treasure...