Flexible working

Today’s news headlines are that 4.5m additional parents will be given the right to ask their employers for flexible working arrangements.

I can hear the groans and the cheers now. Employers will have a mixed reaction, for some the right to request is an administrative nightmare, they don’t have the resources or the knowledge to handle the requests. For others it is welcomed with open arms as it means flexibility in their work force, retention of sills and an increased ability to provide quality service to customers – as with everything, if it is implemented properly.

For parents, well as one myself, flexibility is absolutely essential to ensuring our sanity as we work not only for our employer and our family, but to achieve a balance between the two. I was fortunate, I had good childcare for both the kids from a young age. The problems actually came once my eldest started school. The school day is shorter than a day at full time nursery. Parents are asked to help with outings, fairs and attend meetings and this changes the dynamics significantly. Giving parents of older children the right to request flexible working is ‘the right thing to do’.

But what does this mean in reality?
Well, just because an employee has the right to request flexible working arrangements, doesn’t mean they are going to be able to work flexibly. The business still has the ability to say “no”. There are several reasons why a business may say no and they include the burden of additional costs, inability to recruit to meet the needs of the business and a detrimental impact on performance or quality.

So, what could flexible working ‘look like’?
A flexible working arrangement is a permanent change to an employee’s contract and might involve any of the following:

  • reducing working hours – i.e. work part time
  • a change of work location – i.e. work from home or a company office nearer to home
  • changing working patterns – i.e. start an hour earlier and finish an hour earlier, 9 day fortnights, annualised hours ………
  • job share – 2 people share a full time position

Is it good for business? Yes, as long as the business manages it properly.

Is it good for customers? Yes, because it can be used to improve quality of service.

Is it good for families? Yes, because it enables parents to balance the needs of the family with their desire and need to work.

Could more be done to ensure that this is implemented in a way which supports businesses and their employees?

Yes, while parents and carers have the right to ask to work flexibly, other employees do not. This is detrimental to those without child and elder responsibilities. Flexible working should be a matter of course, available to everyone and one day it will be, but businesses need to make a psychological shift to see the benefits and be bold enough to make the move. Those that do, will win the war for talent.

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