Do I have to allow flexible working?

How will flexible working work in my business?

Hi, today  we are working through our 52 Top Tips For Employers. We have a whole suite of playing cards with advice for employers. And today it’s the six of hearts, which is all about flexible working. 

All eligible staff have the right to request flexible working arrangements, but it’s only the right to request. Not an entitlement to work flexibly. 

Flexible working may include part-time hours, working from home, some or part of the time, job sharing, working 10 days worth of hours, but condensed into nine days, or other arrangements that work for the nature of your business. Any changes to working arrangements are permanent changes to a contract of employment and cannot be automatically reversed. Employees can only make one request in any 12-month period. 

It’s really important, as an employer, no matter what the size of your business, that you have a process in place for dealing with flexible working requests. As I said, they are a legal entitlement to request it. There are certain criteria that people have to meet before they are eligible to put in a flexible working request. But once that request has been made, there is then a period of consultation between the employer and the employee. 

To some extent, and in some businesses, there is an onus on the employee to demonstrate how they think that flexible working will work for the employer. They need to be able to work with the business to make sure that if they want to work 10 ’til two, someone else is willing to work flexible hours to make up the time. But they’re never going to find somebody who’s going to work nine ’till 10 and two ’til five. So practically, putting in a request for that, the chances are it’s going to be turned down. 

You need to look at the needs of the business. And as an employer, if the proposal that comes to you isn’t workable, try and work with your employees to find one that works for both of you. If it’s not going to be feasible, then you do have the right to say, sorry, no, I’m rejecting this flexible working request.

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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.