Managers believe that flexible working could stop rising employee absence, by allowing workers the time off to deal with personal, emotional and family issues such as stress and childcare, without having to resort to calling in sick.
The Work Foundation's survey of 400 personnel specialists comes as some employers continue to resist friendly employment rights, coming into force in or on 6 April.
The new figures, which suggest a reversal of the long-term downward trend in work absence, show overall absence rates in 2002 were 4.12 per cent, or nine days per employee per year, up from 2.9 per cent in 2001.
Over half of the responding organisations offer flexible working. Two-thirds (66 per cent) of these believe that flexible working hours help to reduce absence, as do flexible annual leave (49 per cent) and occasional homeworking (48 per cent). However, civil service union PCS said the absence figures told just part of the story. Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary said: 'It is no surprise that sickness levels are high in areas such as the employment service and benefits agency, where morale is at a low, chronic understaffing has caused high levels of stress and residual issues surrounding health and safety remain.'