Recent changes introduced by the government mean that all employees who have been in their job for more than half a year now have the right to request flexible working arrangements, but it has been argued that it is too easy for employers to decline these requests.
Until now, the right to ask for flexibility in working times and methods has been restricted to carers and people who look after children.
Introducing the reform, the government said two distinct age groups are likely to benefit. Younger workers might need a degree of adaptability in their jobs if they are combining education or training with employment, while older people could welcome the opportunity to work differently as they approach retirement.
Employers that embrace flexible working arrangements could also gain an advantage by keeping hold of the most valuable talent in their labour force.
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said modern businesses will already be aware that allowing flexibility has a positive effect on productivity and staff morale.
He added: "It's about time we brought working practices bang up to date with the needs, and choices, of our modern families.
"Today is a crucial milestone in how we can help people balance their family life with work and caring responsibilities."
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) welcomed the change in principle, but expressed its concern that it is too easy for employers to turn down flexible working requests.
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said people whose employers understand "why flexible working makes sense" will be able to "transform their lives" by taking time out for training, volunteering in outside projects or simply altering their working times.
"But those with old-fashioned bosses who expect all staff to stick to the same rigid hours day in, day out and always be in the office won't be so lucky," she added. "Employers will still find it all too easy to block any requests for greater flexibility."
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said the extension of flexible working request rights to all staff recognises that "the complexities of modern working lives can deliver loyalty, engagement and productivity dividends to firms".
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