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Survival of the adaptable: employers with flexible workforces are coping better

Employers who have a flexible workforce have been able to respond more effectively to the ups and downs of the current economic situation than those with traditional employment structures, according to a new report.

The research undertaken by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) outlined the benefits of flexible working beyond the common focus on working parents. It claimed that companies that were more responsive to fluctuations in demand 'weathered the downturn best and are returning to growth the quickest'.

The findings chime with another survey by the CBI which found that 83 per cent of employers believe that the UK's flexible labour market has helped stem job losses during the downturn.

But it's not all about competitiveness, adaptability and survival. Employees on flexible work tend to be more productive and satisfied with their jobs, and show better rates for attendance and retention. Flexible workforces tend to be more diverse and less likely to have disciplinary issues, both indicators of good employee engagement.

Flexible work can come in a number of guises, including part-time, job sharing, home working, term-time, flexi-time, compressed hours, staggered hours and remote working, to name a few options.

As many flexible arrangements are informal, it's a complicated picture to map statistically, but the general long-term trend has been for an increase in flexible work, particularly part-time. To some extent this has been due to the economic climate, but the report maintained that it's primarily down to the increasing number of employees who want a better balance between other responsibilities and work.

Almost all employers (96 per cent) operate at least one form of flexible working and seven out of ten offer three types or more. But negative perceptions of flexible working still prevail among some senior managers, particularly in larger organisations, according to the report. Similarly, some employees continue to be reluctant to ask for flexible working arrangements for fear of damaging career prospects.

Acas provides comprehensive information and a range of useful resources on all aspects of The right to request flexible working and has published the Advisory booklet - Flexible working and work-life balance . Acas also offers practical training courses on a number of related areas.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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