Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is expected to announce this week the extension of the right to request flexible working hours to all employees.

The Right to Request scheme, which currently only applies to those with children under 17, relatives and some carers, would allow everyone to ask their employer for flexible hours if they wish to help others with childcare, and employers would be forced to consider all requests ‘in a reasonable way’.

Chief Executive at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), Peter Cheese, has said that the Government’s decision to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees is a welcome recognition of a changing world of work that will benefit employers and employees alike.

Peter Cheese said:

“We welcome the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees. The Government consulted widely on these proposals, and we were one of a great many organisations and businesses to respond positively.

“A shift in attitudes to flexible working is a natural reflection of the changing nature of work and the workforce. More flexibility extends the ability of employers to attract, retain and motivate a more diverse workforce, better reflective of the customer base they serve.”

He added:

“Firms are increasingly finding that they can benefit from a higher level of loyalty, commitment and engagement from workers from a broad base of employees, not just working mothers, if they adopt a more universal approach to considering flexible working requests.

In contrast to some of the rhetoric in sections of the media, it is also interesting to note that many small businesses make extensive use of flexible working and, because of their size and personal relationships with their employees, can be amongst the best at making it work.

“The light-touch changes the Government is announcing won’t lead to an overnight change, or in our view unleash any huge latent demand. But we hope they will contribute to continuing cultural change, recognising a positive trend towards more flexible and diverse ways of working.”

Commenting on the benefits that it could bring to employers, he said:

“Employers should have nothing to fear and much to gain from embracing this change, and using it as an opportunity to consider how flexible working practices can both attract a more diverse workforce, but also support them better, resulting in better engagement and wellbeing which in turn produces higher levels of productivity and performance.

“However, it is important to acknowledge that a shift to more flexible and diverse ways of working brings new challenges for line managers, who may find the new world more complex than the simpler, desk-based, nine-to-five one of the past. It is critical that firms properly train managers to handle new ways of working, and to maximise the benefits they can get from a more diverse team, with the potential to be better engaged and more effective. Failure to equip line managers in this way will be the biggest constraint to success”.

Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive of Working Families, also talked up the benefits to employers, saying:

“Many businesses already offer the right to all employees because it leads to performance gains.

“The Government’s own assessment shows the extension will bring a net benefit of £222.5m to employers through increased productivity and through savings from reduced sickness, absenteeism and recruitment costs. Flexible working is an essential tool for business success.”