By Melissa J. Anderson

According to a new study by Opportunity Now and YouGov, 52 percent of workers say they would be happier if they had the opportunity to work flexibly. But, the study showed, that segment isn’t limited to women – men are calling for workplace flexibility too.

Helen Wells, Director of Opportunity Now, said:

“For too long flexible working has been seen as a “Mummy track”, a benefit for working mothers. This research makes it clear that both women and men want greater flexibility at work, and that businesses benefit from that flexibility, with increased productivity and happier, less stressed employees.”

Survey respondents said the key reasons they would like to or already do engage in flexible working is that it would decrease stress and improve productivity. Additionally, Opportunity Now says, “52% of people polled by You Gov told us that greater flexibility at work would/ does make them happier – 53% of men and 51% of women.”

Improving Productivity and Health

According to Opportunity Now, YouGov polled over 2000 adults in early November, and 55 percent said they already have the ability to work flexibly. Only 17 percent said they wouldn’t want a more flexible work pattern.

Individuals who said they’d like to see more flexibility said it would improve (or does improve) their ability to be more productively (36 percent of men and 31 percent of women).

Additionally, about the same amount of men and women (42 percent and 43 percent) said that flexible working would help (or does help) their stress levels. On top of that, 39 percent of men and 36 percent of women said flexible work would be or is good for their health.

The similarities between the numbers for men and women are interesting – and fall in line with recent work from the Families and Work Institute revealing that men are feeling the work/life crunch just as much as women, and sometimes more. But interestingly, the study showed, these numbers aren’t just about family – very few men or women reported that caring for children was a top reason they wanted flexible working arrangements (or already had them).

Flex: Not Just for Parents Anymore

Alison Platt, CMG, Divisional Managing Director, Europe & North America, Bupa and Chair of Opportunity Now said that one reason acceptance of flexible working has grown over the past few decades is because businesses are beginning to take note of the benefits it affords. Flexible working s no longer considered solely a perk for working moms, but as a strategy for help companies improve business processes.

She said, “Business has changed, and it changed because the business benefits are clear.”

In fact, according to the survey, only 17 percent of those polled (14 percent of men and 19 percent of women) said that a key benefit of flexible working was that it enabled them to spend more time caring for their children.

Plat continued: “To go further, it is important that we are clear that flexibility is not just a benefit for working mothers; it is core to creating agile businesses fit for the future, and vital to build the employee engagement that delivers the best possible business outcomes.”

She added that she hoped flexibility would take an even stronger hold by the end of the year – particularly as it applies to management. She said:

“It is because flexibility is good for business that Opportunity Now is asking our members to extend the right to request flexible working options to all employees by 2012. We also ask them to embed flexible working particularly at management and senior leadership levels. And finally, we encourage them to monitor the pay and progression of those with flexible working patterns to ensure that flexible working acts as an enabler for promising talent, not a pigeon hole.”

To be real strategic business initiatives, flexible working arrangements must be viewed as a talent managements tool and a productivity driver – rather than a “benefit” or “perk” for certain employees. Benchmarking compensation and advancement for those who engage in flexible working can ensure that they don’t get sidetracked.