You’ve probably already heard that all employees who have worked for your business or organisation, in the UK, for more than 26 weeks have the right to request flexible working from you.
But what does this mean for you and your business? The rest of the team? And how should you implement it so it works for everyone?
Legal rights and obligations
When you receive a request from the individual, you have a legal obligation to answer. So don’t bury your head in the sand. Open the dialogue, and find out what the person really wants. This is key, because if you are going to say no, for whatever reason, you will need to provide a valid reason, under the law.
Until now, parents of children under the age of 16, and those registered as carers for children or adults have had the right to ask for a change in work patterns that better suits their home life. Now, anyone can request it – they are allowed one request per year. While it’s only a right to ask, and certainly not a right to have, there are enormous benefits to your business, if you embrace the practice.
What could flexible working look like?
- Part-time working
- Flexi-time – scope to change work hours outside of “core” business periods
- Working from home or remotely
- Compressed hours – for example, fitting a five-day week into four days
- Term-time working – paid or unpaid leave during school holidays
- Annual hours – agreed hours split into “set” and “reserve” shifts, worked as demand dictates
There are huge upsides to be reaped from embracing flexible working. It’s not just millennials, working parents, women, carers – the so called typical groups – who benefit from it. It can be a way for you to attract new talent that might not have considered working for you, to gain an edge from your competition who don’t offer it, to build a high trust workplace, and improve employee engagement to name just a few. With stress levels and presenteeism at sky high levels in the UK, ask yourself, are you contributing to this by expecting your staff to sit at a desk, when they could avoid the commute, do the same amount of work, and improve their well being and their positive feelings about you?
Innovate and attract new talent
We’ve seen businesses devise innovative flexible working schedules and arrangements to enable people who couldn’t previously work at a high level contribute and add value to a business. For example in one business it was routine for mothers to return to work at Director level, but only working school and term time hours. So often, women’s talents are wasted because employers don’t or can’t fit into the reality of life with young or school aged children and expect their senior people to be there all hours. Think about the alternative – all that energy, time and resource poured into developing a key member of the team only for them to walk out when the demands of caring for their family become too much. Consider updating your maternity, paternity and shared parental leave policies to reflect this arrangement, and find out more about managing maternity leave here.
This situation is replicated with other stresses outside of work, not just for mothers, and if an employee feels that the balance is out of kilter ultimately they will vote with their feet. Leaving you, and their colleagues, to pick up the pieces. Far better to prevent this situation arising to begin with.
And the results are there for all to see. 75 percent of Best Workplaces offer working from home, for example, compared to just 22 percent of average workplaces.
Why might you say no?
Consider the reason carefully, as you’ll need to be able to show that your refusal is linked to one of the following.
- extra costs that will damage the business
- the work can’t be reorganised among other staff
- people can’t be recruited to do the work
- flexible working will affect quality and performance
- the business won’t be able to meet customer demand
- there’s a lack of work to do during the proposed working times
- the business is planning changes to the workforce
How to make it work.
The key is to consider the practical issues, and have a clear policy in place to cover the basics. Communication is key – and should be mutually agreed. Consider communication protocols not just with line managers but also across teams and functions. A beautiful company calendar like Air’s helps you to keep track of all your team, even those who are working flexibly. But more importantly, its vital to build your culture around managing your people through their performance rather than the time they sit in the office. This can be why flexible working fails, but it is also why when done well it succeeds – and everyone wins.