It is widely accepted that only 6 per cent of the British public hold a traditional 9 to 5 working hours role. Flexible working seems to be more important to the workforce in 2019 than ever before, but is ‘flexism’, the discrimination against people who work flexibly or want to work flexibly, holding businesses back in 2019?
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), flexible working describes a type of working arrangement which gives a degree of flexibility on how long, where, when, and how many hours an employee works.
According to a recent BBC News article, 68 per cent of people feel so grateful to be allowed to work part time that they accept career compromises, 59 per cent miss out on networking opportunities because they work with current working patterns, 65 per cent of people feel less connected to their teams as they can’t make work/social events and 59 per cent feel as though they’ve fallen behind full-time colleagues in terms of skills and knowledge.
Flexible working practices
Flexible working practices include, but aren’t limited to:
- Part time working. Working anything less than the employer’s standard working hours
- Term time working. A worker remains on a permanent contract but can take either paid or unpaid leave during school holidays.
- Job sharing. Two or more people share the responsibility of a single job between them.
- An employee can choose, within certain limits, when to start and end working.
- Compressed hours. Compressed weeks (or fortnights) involve the same hours, but with longer working hours in the day.
- Annual hours. Yearly hours are fixed, but there is variation over the year as to the length of the working day and week.
- Working from home or mobile/satellite working.
- Career breaks. An extended period of leave for up to 5 years or more.
There are numerous benefits to offering your workforce flexible working hours. Some of these are direct benefits, others don’t necessarily impact your bottom line instantly, but create a better working atmosphere, which in turn could see higher productivity in your staff.
These benefits include:
- Saving on office space
- Better match between business resources and demand for those resources
- Improved employee satisfaction
- Improved employee commitment
- Supports employee mental health
- More attractive offer for new employees
- Reduces absence rates
However, employers are likely to face several barriers in communicating and implementing a new flexible working arrangement. These could be:
- Overcoming concerns about operational pressures and meeting customer requirements.
- Managers current attitudes towards flexible working.
- Handling colleagues’ concerns about the impact of other people’s flexible working on their role.
- The existing organisational culture.
- A lack of support at senior levels.
- Inability to measure employees’ performance by outputs rather than hours.
- Technological infrastructure and lack of remote working facilities.
Planning and implementation
By planning, though, flexible working arrangements can be implemented without much upheaval. Organisations should:
- Establish a clear process for flexible working.
- Ensure there are defined roles and responsibilities for employers, line manager and HR.
- Assess the current level of support offered to line managers and ensure it’s good enough.
- Invest in ongoing communication and raising awareness.
- Assess how supportive of flexible working current organisational processes are.
- Assess how conducive the organisation’s culture is to flexible working.
- Make use of pilots and trial periods for flexible working arrangements.
- Build mechanisms to monitor and evaluate progress with flexible working.
In April 2003, the UK government introduced the right to request flexible working. Once a request has been received, the employer should arrange a meeting to discuss the request. The employer should also ask for the request to be in writing. It allows the employer to go into the meeting with an idea of what’s going to happen.
This should be done as soon as possible, this is not a statutory requirement but is good practice. It’s also good practice to have made the decision within three months, including the appeals process, or within a defined period of time discussed and agreed with the employee.
This meeting can provide an opportunity to see what changes the employee is asking for and reasons for the change, although the employee may not wish to say why it also allows any compromise to be explored. Although not a statutory requirement, it would be good practice to allow the employee to be accompanied at a meeting by a work colleague or trade union representative.
Originally, this applied to parents and certain other carers. In 2014, this was extended to include all employees with at least 26 weeks continuous employment, regardless of parental or caring responsibilities. These requests can be submitted by the employee before 26 weeks, but requests do not need to be formally considered, or a reason of rejection provided, if an employee hasn’t had 26 weeks working.
Employees have a duty to consider a request in a reasonable manner and can only refuse a request for flexible working if they can show that one of a specific number of grounds apply.
For further information on flexible working, ACAS has issued a code of practice for employers for handling such requests in a reasonable manner.