Making flexible working the norm

Flexible working in the UK has come a long way in the past 10 years. In 2006, the ‘right to request’ legislation was relatively new and since then we have seen it extended to cover carers, parents of older children and most recently all employees in 2014.

Making a flexible working request

 

Employers have become increasingly aware of the business benefits from giving employees some choice over their working arrangements, whether it be where they work, when they work, or how much time they spend working.

Research we conducted at Cranfield School of Management shows that employees on flexible working arrangements often deliver better performance than those who work in more traditional ways.

It also shows that flexibility builds loyalty to the employer and that employees achieve better job and life satisfaction.

However, as with so much of people management ‘the devil is in the detail’ and some organisations have found that the implementation of flexible working policies presents a number of, sometimes unforeseen, challenges and there can also be unanticipated consequences (good and bad!).

Maybe it is not surprisingly that when people change the way in which they work, other things have to change too.

Getting it right and maximising the benefits available requires hard work and careful thought. In spite of access to flexible working becoming more widespread and an accepted way of working in many organisations, many challenges for successful implementation remain.

Our work at Cranfield has identified a number of areas which continue to challenge employers.

Part-time working

First, making part-time working work is often more difficult than other form of flexibility, such as remote working and flexitime.

Not only does this involve a change to the formal contract of employment, but where an employee moves from full-to-part time there are often practical difficulties establishing an appropriate workload and expectations of availability. Second, much of the attention to date has been on the implications of flexible working for the individual and their performance.

However, many employees work in teams (which may include other flexible workers), where team members need to co-ordinate and rely on one another to complete their tasks.

In order to maximise the benefits from flexible working, employers need to pay attention to how different working arrangements actually influence how a team operates.

Employers have become increasingly aware of the business benefits from giving employees some choice over their working arrangements, whether it be where they work, when they work, or how much time they spend working.

Where flexible working has become ‘business as normal’, it is often the case that much of it is arranged on informal basis – it is simply agreed between the employee and their line manager that they will work remotely a day or two a week, or will arrive at work a bit later or earlier to accommodate non-work commitments.

Whilst there is much to commend informal arrangements, it can also mean that less attention is given to what else needs to be taken into account to ensure that a person who works in a different way fits with the overall organisation and management of work and the workforce.

Too often the ‘making it work’ falls mainly on the employee. This is unlikely to be the best way to gain most benefit from flexible working and also implies a penalty associated with changing working arrangements.

Finally, as many organisations seek to become more agile in the way in which they run their businesses and at the same time offering employees flexibility, there is a need to be alert to tensions which may arise.

*Clare Kelliher [pictured] is Professor of Work and Organisation at the Cranfield School of Management. This article appears in workingmums.co.uk’s Future of Work report which celebrates our 10th anniversary and addresses priorities for the next decade.



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