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Flexible hours are far from reality

By Nick Easen for CNN

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Some workers are ignorant of their rights, others believe flexi-work could hold back their career.
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(CNN) -- Although flexible working hours for parents is written into European employment law, it has yet to become a way of life for many in the workforce.

According to a recent poll, nearly two thirds of Europeans say that their company is not offering flexible working arrangements for employees with children.

In the UK, the European Flexible Working Directive has been in place for a year, yet the survey showed that only 15 percent said their bosses offered flexible terms of employment.

"Workers with children in countries like the UK should be aware that it is up to them to request a flexible working schedule, and employers are legally-bound to consider it," says Hernan Daguerre of Monster recruiting, who conducted the online survey.

Swedes and Finns, however, nearly double the European average with just over a third saying their firms widely offer flexibility.

The European Directive allows parents with children under six, or a disabled child under 18, to apply for flexible working arrangements, including four-day weeks, earlier starts or finishing times, job-share or homework.

When the law was passed it was billed as a vital step to help employees achieve a better work-life balance, boost morale, as well as attract and keep the best talent, whilst boosting efficiency.

Now all European corporations must "seriously consider" requests for flexible work from employees, although they may refuse them if there are sound business reasons -- such as high costs or productivity losses.

Ignorance

Out of the 5,337 Europeans who took part in the survey, 61 percent said that their company does not offer flexible working schedules for parents.

If you want the best for your children, move to the Nordic countries; 38 percent of Swedes and 34 percent of Finns claim to widely use flexi-working.

Yet other Europeans fair worse: only 16 percent of the Spanish and 21 percent of the French claim to have flexible working schedules in place, let alone use them.

"With or without legislation, it is important that organizations realize the benefits of flexi-working, which include a better work-life balance, and even increased productivity," explains Daguerre.

Last October a study carried out by the UK Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development found that flexible work imposes no significant additional costs on firms.

And in the same study, 68 percent of firms said flexible work had a positive effect on relations with employees.

One explanation, widely cited by employees for not taking up flexi-work, is that it could lead to "career death" or jeopardize their movement up the corporate ladder; another reason is ignorance of workplace rights.

Research commissioned by Microsoft and reported in the Times newspaper found that 61 per cent of UK workers were unaware of their flexible working rights -- and 26 percent of small businesses were unaware of employee rights in this area.


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