Considering flexible working? Or have you received a flexible working request from an employee? Read our comprehensive guide to flexible working hours by employment expert Jane Barclay.
Flexible Working can cover working different times/ hours or working from a different location. For Example:
Why has this come about? The UK workforce has become more diverse…. reflecting changes in society: an increase in women at work, single parents, our ageing population etc.
Domestic & family responsibilities have also shifted over the years and in response legislation has evolved & changed to offer both men and women the opportunity to request flexible working.
The need to provide parents with more flexible working patterns was identified following the issue of the Government’s Green Paper – “Work and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice”.
The Government subsequently set up the Work and Parents Taskforce to consider the issue of working parents and flexible working.
They submitted their final report – “About Time: Flexible Working” at the end of 2001 and this has formed the basis of the Act which covers eligibility & procedural requirements. It has since been updated in June 2014 to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees.
Cost Savings due to reduced absenteeism
Flexible working could help to reduce the rising employee absence trend. More progressive companies believe that by allowing workers time off to deal with personal issues and childcare, there is less likelihood of employees having to resort to calling in sick.
Improved Retention rates
Those skilled employees who take on parental responsibilities may find it difficult to juggle full-time office based work with childcare issues and therefore offering flexibility helps to retain those may have otherwise left your organisation to seek more flexible work elsewhere.
This means cost savings through not having to recruit or train replacements.
Increased flexibility for your customers
In our increasingly global environment with rising customer expectations of service levels and access to products etc, offering flexible working may well mean that you can adapt more effectively to your customers’ needs.
Whilst the initial steps in deviating from historical working patterns / practices can seem daunting, the benefits to your customers and therefore your business in the long term may be realised.
Improved employee motivation & reputation as an employer
Whilst a desire for flexible working may not be a motivator for all employees, those who have been offered the opportunity to balance their work and home life tend to be extremely grateful.
Indeed within companies offering flexible working opportunities to all employees irrespective of legal obligations, employee engagement & satisfaction ratings tend to be higher.
Employees generally are more motivated and committed – and prepared to go the extra mile if they feel their employer is being accommodating of their requirements.
High performing employees are likely to have more choices in terms of employer, therefore offering flexible working as a benefit is likely to give you more access to the best employees, as an employer with a good reputation for balancing business and employee needs.
Some would say that we are moving into a new world where different people will work different hours at different stages of their lives, utilising the fast moving technological advances we’re experiencing.
Some would also say that socially employers have a responsibility to enable parents to spend some more time with their children: statistics suggest that some of the current social problems in the UK are a result of parents spending less time with their children.
By encouraging more quality time for families, improvements in society will be seen in the longer term ie reduced vandalism & crime, and a more skilled youth.
Employers need to consider how they want to be perceived by current and prospective employees, and also what kind of values they represent.
Stakeholders and customers alike will also likely be influenced by both the working environment created by the employer and the employer’s approach to the community/society.
Aside from any social arguments, there are robust business benefits to be gained from being more progressive than you have been historically: Think creatively yet logically: Home working can reduce overhead costs for employers (eg desk/office sharing) so by recognising the amount of work that is done in many roles using today’s technology ie computers, telephone etc, employers can often utilise home working requests to their advantage – limited interruptions too can serve to increase productivity.
See the later section called Tips for Managers – how to make it work in practice.
To be eligible to apply to work flexibly the applicant must…
The application from the individual must be made to the employer in writing by email or letter.The application must include:
The basic steps are:
When considering the request, ask yourself the following questions to make sure you have thought about every aspect of the proposal. Just because something has previously ‘not been the norm’, it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t or couldn’t work now and in the future.
‘Thinking outside of the box’ could enable you to turn a request into a positive opportunity for your business.
Job sharing normally consists of two individuals sharing a full-time position (in varying proportions ie 50/50 or 60/40 etc, however they should have separate employment contracts stating the agreed hours to be worked accordingly. Many arrangements allow for some overlap to ensure sufficient communication / handover.
With notice, some job share individuals will be happy to cover their “partner’s” absences eg providing holiday cover etc without the need to source additional temporary support in such cases.
Job sharing may come about by two current employees agreeing to share a role, or by a previously full-time employee wishing to reduce their hours and the employer agreeing to advertise the rest of the role as a job share position.
Whilst there may be some additional costs incurred (due to some overlap of hours for handover purposes, some benefits not able to be pro-rated eg Private Medical Insurance etc), most job share arrangements once established offer the employer increased flexibility and the benefit of higher morale & commitment.
Whilst managing two individuals rather than one may sound onerous, their different skills / work style preferences may well complement each other well to provide you as the employer a wider array of skills and abilities.
Home Working can often be an ideal solution for companies wishing to implement office/desk sharing thus saving in overhead costs. Furthermore, certain duties / aspects of a role can be carried out very productively from home – with no office distractions or interruptions.
Whilst historically there have been concerns about how to manage employees remotely, many companies now measure success on outputs / quality of work & have found that some home working can be extremely productive. It may be worth reviewing your approach to Appraisals and criteria for measuring performance – remember just because someone is located in the office where you can ‘supervise’ them, it doesn’t mean they’re more productive than someone working from home with specific duties / tasks to perform.
A Workstation Assessment should be carried out to ensure compliance with Health & Safety regulations and consideration needs to be given to confidentiality of information being accessed from home – but these issues are easily overcome and can be outweighed by cost savings and increased productivity, as well as higher employee motivation & commitment.
Preventing resentment amongst staff who are not covered by this legislation can be a perceived challenge for some employers. One of the best ways to overcome this is by opening up the opportunity to request flexible working to all employees.
Whilst the concept sounds appealing, you will likely find that many employees choose not to request flexible working. Ideas such as enabling occasional home working on certain types of work, extended unpaid leave during quieter business periods, staggered start and finish times can all be turned into business benefits offering customers more flexibility and higher productivity & cost savings for the employer.
Any refusal will need to be made to the application in writing. You will need to give a valid legitimate business reason if you are going to refuse the request, and you will need to think about your reasons carefully. Applications for flexible working arrangements can be refused only for the following reasons:
The reason needs to be detailed clearly in the letter. There is no statutory right to appeal against a rejection, but it is advised under the terms of handling a request in a reasonable fashion.
Failure to follow the guidelines could lead to a claim – the time limit for bringing a claim to an employment tribunal is three months from the date the employee is notified of the decision on appeal or breach of this procedure.
If the claim is successful, the tribunal may order the employer to reconsider the request and award maximum compensation of eight weeks’ pay.
*Written by HR consultant Jane Barclay.
[This overview is intended for general advice only – employers should consult an employment lawyer for assistance with legal matters]. More information from Acas.