The stuttering UK economy is driving a culture of presenteeism in organisations, undercutting the adoption of flexible working practices and undermining companies’ ability to compete, suggests new research. The study by O2, examined the future of work and flexible working in UK companies, to support the launch of its Joined Up People Service. It reveals that a significant proportion of office workers (41%) feel pressure to be present and visible in the office as a result of the economic climate.

Moreover, employees’ views on flexible working fundamentally differ to those of their employers. The employee perspective reveals:
‘ More than a quarter (27%) believe their performance is primarily measured by the time they spend in the office rather than the outputs that they deliver and that their organisation’s appraisal system doesn’t support or account for flexible working
‘ The same number (27%) feel that they’re prevented from working flexibly by their line manager
‘ Almost a third (31%) think their employer takes a narrow view of flexible working and fails to capitalise on potential benefits such as increased productivity, reduced costs and maximising competitiveness
‘ Employees acknowledge the benefits flexible working brings, with 54% stating that it helps people strike a work/life balance and 52% agreeing that working flexibly boosts productivity
‘ In addition, for employees (excluding those who are self-employed), flexible working is about choosing the hours that they attend work (70%), with only 39% believing it means being able to work from home
‘ Moreover, over a quarter of workers who aren’t self-employed (27%) regard choosing where to work as a major employee benefit

A separate study of business decision-makers reveals that this culture of presenteeism also flies in the face of what employers want, with more than a third (39%) stating that allowing staff to work flexible hours makes their business more productive whilst 43% say it helps retain employees. However, these findings also highlight the widespread nature of outdated and ineffective flexible working practices with 77% of organisations hindering the sharing of best practice and efficiencies by preventing staff from working flexibly across teams. 1 in 6 (16%) have no flexible working policy at all.

David Plumb, O2’s General Manager for Enterprise, said: ‘For many employees, flexible working has been sacrificed as a result of the growing pressure to be visible in the office. With so many organisations facing economic uncertainty, our research suggests large numbers of businesses are missing out on the productivity gains, improved employee and customer engagement and efficient processes that such flexible working practices can deliver. We have found that flexible working has different mindsets depending on if you are the employee or the employer, and that employees spending more time at their desks because they believe they have to is not going to contribute to driving UK business forward.’

Philip Ross, CEO of, author and future of work consultant added, ‘Historically people have been managed by supervision. But in the past five years this has started to change as companies begin to manage by results. This research however shows that there is still a long way to go. While employees may worry that their job is safer if they spend more time in the office, organisations are much better off investing in the right tools and technologies to enable more staff to work remotely. A 1,500-strong office in central London could save £6m a year on real-estate costs by replacing fixed desks with flexible working.’

Phil Flaxton, Chief Executive of Work Wise UK, a not-for-profit initiative which encourages the widespread adoption of smarter working practices, said: ‘In the current economic climate, many businesses feel that they cannot offer their employees flexible working. Yet implemented in the right way, smarter working practices are a win-win situation. Employers benefit from cost savings and increased productivity whilst employees can maintain a better work life balance. Flexible working should be fundamentally based on the principle of managing employees on output and not input. Public, private and third sector organisations need to join forces to bring about this change in attitude. Applying these new ways of working will then benefit the economy, environment and employees alike.’

The findings come as O2 launches a call for a new approach to flexible working ‘ one which enables employees to work productively regardless of time and location and with the secure access to the tools they need to deliver their job on a business or personal device.

In supporting this call, O2 is launching a new service ‘ Joined Up People, part of its Joined Up Business vision ‘ designed to prepare and equip businesses to maximise the use of ICT in their business and to capitalise on the positive potential flexible working provides. With Joined Up People, O2 now provides businesses with the infrastructure, consulting and services to enable all types of businesses and their workforces to increase productivity, reduce costs and maximise competitiveness through flexible working.

The new service provides businesses with the flexible infrastructure needed to support applications, content and services that their employees need to complete their job wherever they are. O2 supplements this infrastructure with professional services consultancy to ensure flexible working practices are future-proofed, scalable and secure.

Journalists can contact the Virgin Media O2 press office on: 01753 565656
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