Can the Olympics do what policy can't?
A survey out this week by the advisory firm Deloitte has found that 32 per cent of London businesses plan to increase flexible working around the 2012 Olympics so that their staff can watch the games and catch up on work outside of 9 to 5. There’ll also be no need for inventive excuses about being late – the survey of 201 business found that 30 per cent will be more understanding about difficulty battling Olympic traffic, 11 per cent will encourage people to have meetings outside London and 8 per cent will support more working from home.
Part of the aim of this is to reduce absenteeism that could plague companies when Rebecca Adlington swims the 400m freestyle or Sir Chris Hoy takes to the sprung floor of the pringle-shaped velodrome. But this effort to embrace flexitime is also a move to recognise that the London Olympics and Paralympics is something that employees, as Londoners, as citizens and as nationals from competing countries, are part of.
It shows that many companies understand that their employees have priorities alongside their commitment to work, and that employers are willing to accommodate this. So, can the Olympics be an opportunity for employers to continue with flexible working after the games when other priorities are at stake? Raising children, for example.
Research from Demos’ parenting report The Home Front found a disappointing take-up of flexitime, not just from employers but employees as well. Men were less likely to request flexible working, and they were less likely to have it granted or for their cases to be successful if they took their request to a tribunal. Today mothers are more likely to work than not work, sharing the parental responsibility and making flexitime important for both parents and crucial for single parents.
At the moment, flexible working focuses on the need to maximise parents’ involvement in their children’s lives. But as the baby boomers age, we won’t just be looking after our children, but our parents too. Flexible working is an unavoidable necessity for modern life – and a model that can vastly improve people’s quality of life. Government recognises this, and has steadily increased the rights of employees to seek flexitime but like much policy-driven culture-change, this can take time to catch on. The Olympics are an opportunity for more employers to put flexible working to the test on an activity without the outdated gender hang-ups associated with caring roles. This could turn out to be one of the most positive legacies of the London Olympics.