Debi O’Donovan, editor of Employee Benefits: Flexible working has helped to make absenteeism go missing

If you feel strongly about parents having the right to request flexible working arrangements, then you really should take a close look at the Employee Benefits/Simplyhealth Healthcare Research 2009 published in June. 

Every June since 1999, Employee Benefits has conducted a major piece of research into the healthcare offerings and attitudes of UK employers. So, in our 11th annual survey, published this month, we have been able to spot a fascinating change in the way employers have been able to reduce workplace absence.

In our 2000 survey, we found that 39% of respondents said that employees’ personal problems were a major reason for absence, and 30% said family responsibilities were causing staff not to turn up. These percentages have dropped each year and now just 18% say problems with childcare are causing people to stay away from work, and a mere 7% say work-life balance is an issue in their workplace.

So all those organisations that rally against flexible working practices and extra legal rights for parents would do well to examine this data in more detail (see the report included with this issue). They will see how the UK’s increasing efforts to accommodate the needs of carers is, in fact, also having a very positive effect on businesses.

If only all changes to workplace legislation could be seen to have such a welcome impact for businesses.

The change to the way pension contributions are taxed for higher-paid employees is causing ripples throughout the industry. Several employers watched their top staff being stung by this higher tax rate last month – after implementing bonus sacrifice schemes to be launched on 1 May. Contracts were changed and payroll was run before the Budget announcement on 22 April, but because payday was after this date, the new rules applied. HM Revenue and Customs gave no option for employers to reverse these schemes mid-stream, so staff, instead of maximising tax breaks as promised, were hit even harder.

Whatever your views on taxing high-earners more, the problem here is a lack of understanding of why employers implement particular benefits strategies to retain and motivate key staff.

We now watch with interest how the changes will start to reframe the reward packages of six-figure earners, because they surely will.