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Flexible working can be offered in a number of different ways. Altering the hours worked, amending work schedules, ‘banking’ hours or coming in and leaving early are all ways in which employees can take control over the hours they spend in the workplace.

Flexible working is obviously attractive to employees; it gives them a certain amount of control over their working day, but is it really worthwhile to employers? And what is the ‘norm’ across the globe when it comes to legislation surrounding flexible working.

Outlining Flexible working in Europe

In the UK, the current laws give the right to all workers caring for a child or adult to apply for flexible working. On 13 November 2011, however, Nick Clegg the Deputy Prime Minister has announced an addition to the current legislation allowing parents much more flexibility around their parental leave. The idea is that it will encourage more women back to work with the Resolution Foundation warning the government that the UK economy lacks 1 million women in its workforce, having a negative impact on the growth of the economy.

But how does the UK add up with the rest of Europe?

A study covering EU’s 27 Member States of the EU, as well as Norway, shows a divide between certain parts of Europe and the availability of flexible working. The study also shows that as the financial crisis started to hit Europe, many companies reduced working hours which in turn had an impact on people’s personal economy. As people’s personal economy got worse they had less money to put back into the economy, only worsening the crisis. The study goes on to compare the different parts of Europe and look at how their finances are doing. In the Nordic countries it is more common to offer flexible working hours and over 60% of employees have some control over their working time. In the Mediterranean and eastern European countries, only 25% of those employed say that they would have the possibility to arrange their working time. Which the recent publicity about the changes happening in England, Nick Clegg commented: “…And it’s good for our economy; A modern workforce is a flexible workforce too.”

Flexible working in the US

Hewlett-Packard were the first US company in 1973 to introduce flex time for their employers and flexible work arrangements have grown in popularity and use. The Bureau of Labor conducted an in-depth report in 2004 which showed that 27.5% of all full-time workers in the US had flexible work schedules. Further reports show that this statistic has remained steady.

Is there a benefit for employers?

Although flexible working gives a huge range of advantages to the employee, it isn’t just a one way ticket and employees also see a good range of benefits:

1. Flexible working often increases employee morale, and engages them with your organisation often meaning they’re likely to stay for longer periods of time

2. Absenteeism and tardiness is reduced

3. When it comes to finding the best employees, offering good flexible working option can often lead to a higher quality of candidates

4. Improved employee retention

5. Allowing staff to work when they are at their best improves production – some may prefer to work early in the morning, others later in the afternoon

6. The company has extended hours of operation which is incredibly useful for improving customer service.

All in all, although it might seem like a bit of a leap, there can be great benefits for both parties when it comes to flexible working. If you’re unsure about how to apply it into your business, speak to a HR or employment law specialist who will be able to advise you on the best way to proceed.

Rebecca Field writes on behalf of Norwich solicitors, Gordon Dean LLP, specialising in employment law.