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Workers afraid to discuss flexible working options

One in five employees assumes their flexible working request will be denied

More than one in five UK private sector workers are too afraid to discuss flexible working with their boss, according to a report from Aviva.

Working Lives shows that 21% (or 5.5 million workers nationally) have reservations about asking for flexible working because they assume their request will be denied. A third (34%) of businesses reported not offering flexible working options at all.

The survey of 500 private sector employers and 2,000 private sector employees found that despite the widespread fear of asking to change their work arrangements, out of the employees who specifically initiated a conversation (54%) the majority (79%) had their request accepted. Almost two in three private sector businesses (64%) say they offer the opportunity for flexible working.

However, Gareth Hemming, managing director of SME insurance at Aviva UK, said there is “still work to be done".

“The fact that our research suggests some employees are too afraid to ask for flexible working options suggests there is still some work to be done to create an open culture where people can feel able to have conversations with their employers,” he said.

He added though that workplace changes could allow more opportunities for flexible working. “Technological innovation is presenting new ways for businesses to serve their customers and support growth objectives,” he said. “It also offers the potential for organisations to evolve how they interact with customers outside of core working hours.

“Such change means businesses may need to rethink the way their employees work and should consider the benefits flexible working could bring in meeting business goals. It can also support employees looking to manage their work/life balance better as they juggle work with busy lives; looking after family young and old, managing health, or even wanting more time to pursue other interests.”

Two in three (65%) employers suggested that the private sector workforce will work more flexibly in five years’ time, and more than half (51%) of all private sector employees say they already work flexibly either regularly or occasionally.

“Flexible working patterns are becoming increasingly common and businesses are predicting this trend will grow over the next five years,” added Hemming. “Indeed many businesses have already adapted their operations – and a number have said they are considering it for the future as they recognise the benefits to both employer and employee."