Alexandra Jones, policy specialist at The Work Foundation, said, "By relying on individuals to request flexible working, there is a risk that only a select few will take advantage. Valued employees with specialist skills may be confident about approaching their managers and building a business case, but many individuals will not feel able to do so.
"By monitoring flexible working decisions over time, employers gain a better insight into take-up by gender, role and the type of flexibility requested."
The Work Foundation's research shows that even among firms with a greater awareness of flexible working, only about 33% have a formal policy. It recommended that firms introduce formal policies or modernise existing guidelines to ensure they are transparent and fair.
It also discovered that while 65% of firms offer paternity leave, men often do not take it because of a fear of discrimination. It said the right to request such benefits only goes some way in tackling fundamental culture problems.
However, the right to request flexible working arrangements does not belong exclusively to parents. Any employees, including those caring for the elderly, can request flexible working under new legislation that came into force last month.
The research confirms that flexible working policies also help reduce absence rates - flexible workers who take emergency leave have no need to call in sick.