UK Prime Minister Calls for a more flexible workforce

Tony Blair Weighs in with a call for more Business agility, pledges to prepare the workforce for “flexi-Britain”

More high profile statements regarding flexible working from the Labour Prime Minister.

It’s clear that not only is the momentum for flexibility growing in the current workplace , if employers wish to attract and retain the most able candidates from the next generation of employees flexibility will be demanded.

Now is the time to put the procedures and practices in place to accommodate the workers of tomorrow it’s the only way to maintain or attain competitive advantage. Forget about attracting the most able of candidates if you are unable to accommodate their need to manage their responsibilities how and where they wish.


In summary in his seventh lecture in his Our Nations Future series   the PM said there is a need for UK workers and employers to adapt to the changing workplace, the full transcript can be found here

Whilst his address was primarily meant to emphasise the Government’s commitment to educate the next generation of workers for the brave new world of work, he made a number of points that apply to the current  situation and make very interesting reading for employees and employers throughout the UK 

The lecture deals with some interesting topics, from both the employer and employee perspective, and is an acknowledgement by the establishment that the workplace debate has moved from the absolutes of employment / unemployment of the 80’s and 90’s to the more fluid discussion about the overall quality of life available when taking work and personal commitments into consideration.

In his speech Tony identifies the tag of work life balance as somewhat outmoded and looks forward to a time where employees become empowered to participate in a fulfilling job that’s arranged in such a manner that  managing work and home commitments becomes easier.

it’s an interesting prospect and the PM suggests that the coming generations will demand more flexibility, and won’t accept it can’t be done as a reasonable answer he says:

They believe they can do what they want to do.  For all the pressure, insecurity and change, they know the world is far more open, rich in possibility and opportunity than ever before.  Our task is to help them explore and exploit these opportunities.

for the current workforce the PM suggests that

Human capital was becoming the key determinant of corporate and country success……………..  Then, as the jobs have risen and the numbers of unemployed have fallen, the employee’s position has strengthened.  They can change employers.

The challenge today is to make the employee powerful, not in conflict with the employer but in terms of their marketability in the modern workforce.  It is to reclaim flexibility for them, to make it about their empowerment, their ability to fulfil their aspirations.

and observed that the workplace  is changing by detailing the following facts

    • The number of homeworkers in the UK is now well over 3 million. 
    • The numbers of teleworkers – using a phone and computer to carry out their work – has almost trebled in the last 10 years.
    • around a third of employers now offer flexi-time or homeworking. 
    • 22% of employees with children under six or disabled children have requested to work flexibly.
    • there is now a right to time off for family emergencies, and three months’ parental leave. for Part and full time workers
    • the April 1st extension of maternity and adoption pay from six to nine months, with a target to extend this to a year’s paid leave by the end of the Parliament.

His Call to action is pretty unequivocal: 

The benefits for employees are clear.  But the benefits for employers are  also immense.  They can attract and keep the best workforce.  The have fulfilled and happy employees.  The best business works today as a partnership. Greater personal empowerment enables such a partnership to function. 

But the important thing to recognise what is the reality we cannot change; and the reality we can.  That modern world of flux and adjustment, a kind of permanent revolution in the way we work, that is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.  It won’t change.  It will intensify.

The reality we can change is how we prepare people for the reality we can’t. 

But the character of this new age is one of individual empowerment.  People want society and the state in support not in control.  They want to be in control:  in their time spent in leisure; in their family time; and in their work.  A job is not enough. So let us put work back at the top of the agenda, reclaim flexibility for the employee, recognise that our nation’s economy, as well as the people who work in it, need employees whose individual potential is developed to the full; and reshape policy around such a vision.

David Frost Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce noted in response:

New research conducted by the BCC amongst small and medium size businesses suggests that employers are enthusiastically adopting a flexible approach to the way they manage their staff. The Government needs to continue to work with business to deliver those regulatory and economic conditions which will help our business sector to thrive globally

this is a clear acknowledgement that the landscape of work is changing, Organisations of any size must be ready to operate in the new environment if they are to survive.

there will be some inevitable conflict between employee and employer during the transition but with careful management and an understanding of the issues both will emerge from the process in  a stronger position.

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