Over the last ten years, flexible working practices have become integrated into the economy – almost 60 per cent of employees currently use a form of flexible working. This Government has pledged to go even further – the right to flexible working for all was enshrined in the Coalition agreement – but it has vacillated in the face of pressure from the business lobby.
Reinventing the Workplace argues that it would be both economically short-sighted and socially irresponsible to roll back the progress made over the past decade, due to pressures in a time of economic uncertainty. The recession will not go on forever, whereas the need for flexible work has been a long time coming, as the care responsibilities of those in employment have increased with the growth of shared parenting, more mothers returning to work and an ageing population.
There is a business case for flexible work – employers benefit by lowering estate costs, retaining staff, increasing productivity and reducing absenteeism. It proved its worth at the height of the financial crisis, when cooperation between employers and employees minimised job losses. But flexible work also has clear, positive social outcomes. More involved parenting improves the life chances of children, a better work–life balance increases individual happiness, a more flexible workforce is more able to bear the burden of care, and the Big Society requires people to have more time to be active citizens.