HR RESOURCES:

Flexible Working – Is it right for your business?

What is flexible working?

Flexible working offers a pattern of working that balances business needs with those of employees. It is an alternative to the more traditional idea of set working times, and can include earlier or later start and finish times, and time working remotely.

Should I consider flexible working for my business?

The traditional view on flexible working is that it is only for mothers or fathers who require altered working hours around childcare commitments, or else for carers. However, research from Timewise suggests that 87% of full time workers already work flexibly, or would like to do so.

Long hours, pressure, and the rapid pace of work can all take their toll on staff and lead to stress and burnout, which could cost your business in the long run. This could result in low productivity, heightened levels of absence, and even spiralling staff attrition numbers.

Flexible working could give your staff more freedom to choose the hours they work, and the location in which the work takes place. This may seem somewhat counterintuitive for a small business where productivity is key, but the research by Timewise shows that full-time employees want flexibility. By offering flexible working patterns to prospective employees, your business will be more attractive to potential talent,  whilst simultaneously helping to build a happier workforce, as well as increasing productivity and retention rates.

Of course, there are pros and cons to flexible working, and a research paper for ACAS highlights the Implications of flexible work arrangements for individuals, teams and organisations. It is important to weigh up these points when deciding on a flexible working policy for your business.

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Who can request flexible working?

Any employee with 26 week’s continuous service with a business can make a single written request for flexible working within a 12-month period. This also applies to agency workers who have employee status, or to an employee returning to work from maternity or paternity leave.

As an employer, it is important that you set out a policy on flexible working that your staff can access easily. If an employee wishes to make an application to you for flexibility in their working pattern, the Employment Rights Act 1996 sets out what must be included.

Any request for flexible working should:

  1. Be in writing with the date of the request
  2. Be clear that it is a request for flexible working
  3. Be clear about the change in work patterns the employee is requesting (e.g. a request to change from 9am-5pm to 8am-4pm)
  4. State the date when the requested change should start. A flexible working request need not be permanent, so an agreement can be made for temporary flexible working.
  5. Give an overview of any benefits the employee foresees, and how any risks that may arise from any change can be addressed
  6. Tell the employer if any previous requests have been made.

You should acknowledge all requests made by your employees in writing, and within three months of the date of their request.

Ensuring that your flexible working policy is fully accessible, and that you can effectively keep track of flexible working requests and agreements can be a full-time job in itself. So too can planning your staff rotas around being flexible with your employees, and this is where an effective HR software solution can really help manage the process.

Can I refuse a request for flexible working?

Not all requests for flexible working will work for your business, and whilst it pays to give as much flexibility as you can, there are circumstances in which you can refuse a request. These include:

  1. It isn’t possible to re-organise work among other employees
  2. Your business is planning structural changes
  3. Flexible working would leave a burden of additional costs
  4. It would lead to a decreased ability to meet customer demand or decreased performance
  5. Your business is unable to recruit additional staff
  6. There isn’t enough work during the times your employee has requested
  7. If the quality of work would be negatively affected

If you do decide to refuse an employee’s application, you should tell them as soon as possible, citing which of the reasons above applies and why.

Types of Flexible Working

Normally when thinking of flexible working, there is a tendency to think it means moving working hours, e.g. 9am-5pm to 8am- 4pm, or 10am-6pm. In reality, there are a number of different ways to organise working flexibly:

  1. Working remotely: This means an employee will spend some of their working hours working from locations other than your business premises. A common place for remote working is at home.
  2. Part-time working: This means an employee will work less than your company’s standard full-time hours. This could be in the form of a shortened work day, or working less than five days a week.
  3. Compressed hours: An employee would still work standard full-time hours, but over less days. For example, an employee may be contracted to 40 hours per week. Over five days, this would be eight hours per day, but with compressed hours, an employee may work four days of 10 hours.
  4. Flexi-time: You would set out core working hours, and then give your employees the freedom to choose their working hours outside of these times. For example, you may say an employee must be in the office between 10am-3pm, but outside of these hours, they can choose when to work their remaining hours.

The world is changing, and rules and regulations are adapting too. Technology is making it easier for employees to work from anywhere, and this is leading to more and more people embracing the idea of flexible working. Research shows that a workforce with flexibility is a happier and more productive one, so it is important for employers to consider the impact of flexible working, and to ensure that they manage it effectively to continue to get the best from their teams.

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