Flexible working requests from staff are something that more and more employers could be faced with. Although it hasn’t taken off as much as expected, changes to the law back in 2014 have meant that more people than ever can ask to be considered for this new way of working. So, what exactly is flexible working? And could you be caught out by these changes?
What is flexible working, and who can request it?
Flexible working is most commonly associated with adjusting hours for parents with young children. But that isn’t the whole picture as it is no longer just limited to parents.
Anyone you employ now has the right to request and work flexible hours – for whatever valid reason. It could be that they have to care for an elderly relative, or find that their commute has become increasingly challenging. Usually it means it’s difficult for them to be a full-time employee.
Anyone in your business can request flexible working and this request has to be taken seriously. But it’s not as one-sided as it may sound. Once you have considered the request you, equally, have the right to refuse it.
You must decide within 3 months of the request being made if it is something your business is happy to accommodate. And if you decide to refuse a flexible working request, you have to give a valid business reason for it. Such as:
- You can’t find someone to cover the hours
- You are about to undergo a big company change, that you planned before you received the request
- You can’t afford to lose the employee for that amount of time per week/month
Without a strong business reason, you could leave yourself open to a legal claim. The employee may feel that you have discriminated against them, or even claim constructive dismissal if it means they end up leaving your business.
Is flexible working good for my business?
There is no cut and dried answer to this question. And each business should weigh up the merits versus the disadvantages for themselves.
Workplace stress has a big impact on productivity in the UK. So ensuring that your staff work in a way that doesn’t compromise their mental wellbeing will almost certainly be good for your business, by reducing the risk of stress related sickness absences, and improving your chance of increased productivity whilst at work. But this doesn’t necessarily mean flexible working is the answer in all cases.
If you’re seen to be more accommodating of people’s needs, you may have a more loyal workforce as a result. After all, if someone else offers flexible working and you don’t, the employee may seize the chance to move on which is a right they have.
Another consideration is that you might encourage new recruits to join you by offering flexible working. A report last year showed that only 6% of job ads offered flexible working.
And finally don’t forget, if someone works fewer hours you’re paying them less too!
All that said, it is your choice to decide whether offering flexible working is right for your business. It may well not be. And in such cases your employees who no longer feel they can work their contracted hours are free to move on.
How should I manage flexible working? I’d really rather not do lots of paperwork…
Often, flexible working will be a temporary and informal arrangement. So you’ll be happy to hear you shouldn’t have to make any changes to an employee’s contract, although you should always do a letter to confirm the changes, so everyone is clear.
However, if it is something the employee wants to change on a more permanent basis, it will need to be reflected in their contract. It’s important for both parties to be aware that the employee doesn’t have the right to automatically go back to their old working pattern whenever they choose. After all, it’s highly likely that the business will have made changes to accommodate the new way of working such as hiring another employee.
Often a good practical solution is to suggest a trial period of flexible working, perhaps a month, and monitor the employee’s performance before making it a permanent arrangement. That way it is a fair test for both of you that can be easily undone. Of course, you should agree on the parameters of the test and make it very clear to them that their performance is being observed throughout.
Should you find that their performance drops significantly that would be a good business reason to refuse the flexible working arrangement on a permanent basis.
Who’s taking up flexible working?
Many of you might think that flexible working is something that is only common amongst working mums. Well, you’d be wrong.
In fact, recent studies have shown that as many as 1 in 3 high-earning part-time workers are male.
As an employer in the UK, you should be ready for flexible working requests to come from anyone. Although the numbers may be small at the moment, it’s always best to be prepared.
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So there you have it, flexible working. It doesn’t have to be a thorn in your side. It could help you improve business performance and if it’s not right for your business, it’s very easily dealt with.