5.5m workers in the private sector are afraid of asking for flexible working as they expect their employer to say ‘no’[1]

Over one in five (21 per cent) of UK private sector employees, equivalent to 5.5m nationally¹, are too afraid to discuss flexible working with their boss, Aviva’s Working Lives report shows.

The findings come despite employees having the legal right to make a ‘statutory application’ to their employer to change their working pattern[2]. Those aged 35-49 are the most likely to refrain from exercising this right despite the challenge some in this age group may face with juggling work and family life: nearly one in four shy away from starting a conversation for fear of rejection.

Despite the widespread fear of asking to change their work arrangements, of those employees (54 per cent) who have specifically initiated a conversation, the vast majority (79 per cent) have had their request accepted, as almost two in three private sector businesses (64 per cent) say they already offer the opportunity for flexible working. Such findings suggest a potential disconnect between employees’ expectations of what their employers will allow, and the greater freedom that is actually available to them.

Two in three employers (65 per cent) think the private sector workforce will work more flexibly in five years’ time and over half (51 per cent) of all private sector employees say they already do so, either regularly or occasionally, within their role.

Improved business performance, productivity and happiness

More than half (51 per cent) of businesses reported it increases productivity and more than two thirds (68 per cent) believe it makes their employees happier.

Flexible working also helps with retention and recruitment with two in three (63 per cent) employees admitting they are more likely to stay with an employer who offers it.

Such views chime with staff who currently adopt flexible working patterns, as almost two in five (37 per cent) cite increased happiness as one of the top three outcomes from working flexibly. One in three (34 per cent+) also identify being able to more effectively manage their responsibilities outside of work as one of the top three outcomes.

 Gareth Hemming, director of SME insurance at Aviva UK, said:


 “Whilst flexible working may not be a practical option for all businesses they may still be able to introduce some degrees of flexibility – even on an ad hoc basis that may be beneficial.

 “Flexible working patterns are becoming increasingly common and businesses are predicting this trend will grow over the next five years. 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.

“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 employees can feel able to have conversations with their employers.”

[1] ONS Labour statistics

[2] Gov.uk overview on flexible working laws