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Monday, 2 July, 2001, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
Flexible working: Should employers do more?

The UK government is set to give workers with children the right to ask their employers for flexible working hours or to work part time.

The hope is that flexible working will benefit both working parents and businesses by encouraging a happy and productive work-life balance.

But parents' groups and union leaders have criticised the proposals, saying that employers will still be able to refuse requests if they think they will have a detrimental affect on their businesses.

How do working hours affect your family life? Would you welcome flexible working? Are employers going far enough?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction


All it will do is make companies not employ people with small children

Dave Allen, London, UK
Any decent company allows this anyway like working from home a few days a week, etc. If this legislation gets through, all it will do is make companies not employ people with small children. And of course, if business did suffer as a result they would probably end up being sacked, with different reasons being cited as the excuse for dismissal.
Dave Allen, London, UK

I had to laugh at Jeff from the USA's comments. That's the first time I've heard anyone describe the current Government as socialist.
Gaz, UK

How predictable that those without children complain about flexibility for parents. If people choose to not have children that's ok but they should not complain when they are old that there are not nurses or taxpayers to take care of them due to a declining national population.
Robin Basak, UK


Paid employment is - for most people - a form of slavery

David Slater, York England
The debate on 'flexible' working hours misses the point. Working hours should be LESS flexible, i.e. there should be a legal limit of around 35 hours a week strictly enforced including work done at home and restoring Sunday trading laws. Paid employment is - for most people - a form of slavery whereby the majority of your life is taken up making money for someone else.
David Slater, York England

I don't think that employers are actually ready to accept this. I have worked from home without the slightest negative effect on my performance, yet my employer (who approved the arrangement), phoned me at home to complain. They said the quality of my work was very good, but I had to 'be there'. That statement showed how far behind the times their thinking is.
MD, USA

In my experience, it is the smaller companies who are more flexible and understanding towards their staff and the bigger, often multi-national companies who are more likely to refuse to compromise and who may even attempt to deny workers their current legal rights.
Julie, UK


Flexibility can be compatible with business needs, it just needs to be a two-way street. And it isn't just for those with children either!

Julia, UK
The trouble with employers is that they want flexibility to work their way only. In my profession, we are always expected to be flexible in working extra unpaid hours but trying to get some of them back at a later date is an uphill struggle. Flexibility can be compatible with business needs, it just needs to be a two-way street. And it isn't just for those with children either! We all want a life outside work.
Julia, UK

Work to live and not vice versa.
Kelv, The Netherlands

I am of the opinion that introducing flexible working hours where possible is an excellent idea. How many people literally hate the thought of getting up each day and going to work - a few million I would say. If hours were more flexible, I feel that there would be a little more contentment in the workplace. There are too many employers out there who just don't realise that their workers keep their business alive and should be appreciated a little more. I am quite flexible with my staff when they require time off, especially at short notice, etc., it certainly makes the workplace friendly and happier. My staff do me proud and I give a little back. There are too many bosses out there who don't have a clue how to give back - it's time they learned.
Jennie, England

I don't have kids but now my parents are getting elderly I would like access to flexible hours.
Pauline, London

I agree with all the people who've said it shouldn't be just for people with children. Like many other contributors to this discussion, I am childless with no plans for parenthood in the near future. But that doesn't mean I don't have demands that warrant legitimate time off work now and then. Flexible working for all would go a long way towards solving the resentment that people seem to feel when covering for their colleagues who have children.
Kathryn, UK

I manage a department of 45 staff in the tourism industry. Ours is an intense industry often demanding long hours during busy periods. I believe that a reduced week compensates employees for those times when extra time is a necessity. Reduced work-weeks have been shown to increase productivity markedly and improve morale dramatically. How long will it take for employers to comprehend that content employees reduce costs (late, sick calls, laziness) and increase productivity. Employees are no longer willing to be categorized as disposable. With an inevitable staff crunch looming with the retiring of baby-boomers, it is more important than ever for employers to adopt new policies to keep employees lives balanced socially and professionally.
Wil Tarnasky, Canada


No amount of legislation can turn a bad employer into a good one

Guy Chapman, UK
Unfortunately no amount of legislation can turn a bad employer into a good one. This proposal is doomed to fail. Much better to use bodies like the Institute of Directors and the Training and Enterprise Councils to work with companies to build flexible working policies - in the end the firms which treat employees badly will suffer as productivity drops and people vote with their feet.
Guy Chapman, UK

I am lucky to work for an organisation that is very flexible, not just for those with children but for everyone. It makes for a far happier and contented workforce and no one feels discriminated against. My last employer was precisely the opposite. Even time off for the doctors or dental appointments was positively frowned upon and everyone was expected to work more than their contracted hours for no extra reward. I know where I would rather be. Flexible working practices should be available to everyone, regardless of their commitments.
Janet Gladstone, UK

I never thought that retaining experienced and knowledgeable employees was "bad business". When employers show some flexibility to accommodate a worker's personal schedule, whether it be school, children, Church or elderly parents, it goes a long way towards fostering a much more loyal, happy employee. If done in a reasonable way that is workable and benefits both parties, flexi-time is a step in the right direction.
Faye, USA

The reason this or any government chooses to stimulate people who decide to raise children is because that is the only way to make sure we don't die out. Someone who has chosen not to "breed" - what a horribly term - has every right to that lifestyle, but not with official blessing. This is not a moral judgement, it's basic maths. Finally, most children will one day become taxpayers and their contributions will be enjoyed even by those who decide "not to breed".
Marc Sturgeon, UK

Another perk for those with children. My taxes are re-arranged to give people with children more money, I have to cover the time when people with children take extra time off, now I will have to cover while people with children pick and choose the hours they work. What will be the next step?

People with children needn't work at all, let them have 18 years off while the rest of the work force support them. It was their choice to have children, but let's make everyone else work themselves into the deck so that they can enjoy them!
Robert, U.K

I have been an employee for 17 years, the last 3 of which have been as a parent. I now have 2 children aged 3 and 1. I feel those that have not had children underestimate the effort and additional considerations that have to be made to balance work and family responsibilities. Pre-children, I for one, had little appreciation of the additional demands parenthood would bring, and also resented the seemingly unfair allowances made to parents.

For those without children but intend having them in the future, enjoy it now, your life is so uncomplicated - and you'll certainly be glad of any flexibility your employer can give when you do. For those without children with no intention of having any - that's your choice, and I envy your personal freedom, you should enjoy it, instead of whinging.
James Dean, UK

Employers can start by not dumping on those of us that don't have children. I may not have children but that doesn't mean I don't have a life. I'd like the freedom to shift my hours to suit myself - do I have to bring an unwanted child into the world to get this privilege? And excuse my ignorance, but I thought that in the land of free speech I already had the right to ask for things.
Dave Tankard, UK

I think that the Government's proposals are another example of the veiled socialism that it practices. Business exists to make money, not to be a giant charity. This will be counter-productive as businesses will be forced to juggle all kinds of work schedules and at considerable cost and possibly bankruptcy.
Jeff, USA

To give perks to those with children without giving the same to all is discrimination. I thought discrimination was illegal in the UK. Having been a carer for more than 20 years, parenthood hasn't been an option. It's time Mr Blair recognised the fact that those without children are not lesser beings and stopped taxing us unfairly, and discriminating against us with his policies.
J Mead, UK

I work in a shift team environment where if one person is missing someone of equal qualifications and status has to cover his/her job. Giving flexibility to one causes disruption to the home life of another. If my relief does not come to work I have to stay, or I get called out on my time off. We all have home lives not just those with younger children.
Mark, Scotland


Although I have children I feel that flexi is an ideal way to work

Tracy Faulkner, England
I have worked for BT for the past 12 years and for many of them have had a flexible contract. Although I have children I feel that flexi is an ideal way to work - it gives the employees a better way of working and employers a happy work force. At times I have been asked at short notice to cover periods at the end of the day when not enough staff are available and everyone has repaid the company's flexibility by offering to change their plans.
Tracy Faulkner, England

Good idea, but why just workers with children? Us singletons have lives too! Flexibility for all workers would reduce stress and absenteeism across the board. Why is this Government so obsessed with helping that part of the population that chooses to breed?
Mark B, UK

I work for a large engineering company that has already implemented policies covering part-time working and job sharing. These are open to all employees, not just parents, as long as there is no detrimental affect on day to day business. I will soon be testing just how flexible the company can be. My son starts school in September and I will be asking to start an hour later in the morning (and stay an hour later in the afternoon) so that I can drop him off.
Janet, UK

Granting a request that adversely affects your business is madness. When all is said and done, the business world is precarious enough already. The children in question would be much worse off if their parents were to lose their job because the company they work for goes bankrupt. What's more, what of those workers without children? Why should they have to work longer, more unsociable hours in order to achieve what the entire team should be working toward? Certainly employers should be flexible and understanding, but government legislation is not needed. Common sense is the rule here.
Chris N, England


Why should the part-time club be open only to parents?

Lindsay Swan, UK
The Government's new plans to give parents the right to ask employers for part-time or flexible work is a step in the right direction. But why should the part-time club be open only to parents? I am concerned that new legislation could alienate people without children who are looking for their own work-life balance or have other caring responsibilities. It might create tensions between parents and non-parents and could put businesses off employing people with childcare commitments.
Lindsay Swan, UK

A right to ask! Boy that's big of them.
Malcolm McMahon, York, UK

I'm a bit annoyed that flexible working seems to be aimed solely at people with children. I'm single and childless, and I'm trying to study for a degree (in my "spare" time) while holding down a demanding full-time job. I have to miss vital tutorials because I can't rearrange my work to fit round my life. However, I appreciate that adjusting my working hours (however short-term) would have a negative impact on my employer's business - I need to be around during working hours to talk to clients.

I would suggest that flexible working be considered by employers for EVERYONE who has a reasonable reason for doing so, and that employees respect this as the goodwill gesture of the company rather than expect it as a right. But mostly, they should appreciate that their desire for flexible working must be balanced by the needs of the employer and their colleagues who, after all, are the ones who are most likely to lose out over this. If the employer can't (or won't) offer flexible working, then perhaps parents should consider working part-time until their children are more self-reliant.
Gavin Threndor, UK

Granting a request that adversely affects your business is madness. When all is said and done, the business world is precarious enough already. The children in question would be much worse off if their parent were to lose their job because the company they work for goes bankrupt.

What's more, what of those workers without children? Why should they have to work longer, more unsocialable hours in order to achieve what the entire team should be working toward? Certainly employers should be flexible and understanding, but government legislation is not needed. Common sense is the rule here.
Chris N, England

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