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What’s the low-down on the new ‘flexible working hours’ initiative?

From now on, employees with more than 26-weeks service can submit requests for flexible working arrangements.  This initiative, which previously had only been accessible for those with children or with caring responsibilities, can include requests for compressed hours, 4-day working weeks, working from home, mobile working and job shares.

What are the reactions?  Unions and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills have praised the move saying it ‘will modernise workplaces and bring them into line with demands for work-life balance.’  On the flip side, the Federation of Small Businesses argue that ‘the change will cause more administration, and that automatic rights should not have replaced the largely consensual approach most small businesses already take.’  Another argued point raised how the approval process will be managed; if one employee is granted flexible working, then what knock-on effect will this have on the next person who submits a request?  Will their application be declined as they are now required to provide cover for the first person?

CIPD research states positively that when flexible working is adopted, 73% say it “has a positive impact on staff motivation and engagement” and ‘more than three-quarters of employees say it helps with retention.’  This change supports placing the much needed emphasis on complexities of modern working lives and the necessity to accommodate for an increasingly 24/7 global customer base.  Flexible working hours will guide the route for a more modern, 21st century workplace.  Business minister, Jo Swinson, commented “Firms that embrace flexible working are more likely to attract and retain the best talent and reap the benefits of a more motivated workforce.”

So as a manager, what can you do to make flexible working requests a positive step in your organisation or team?  It is important that managers take a personalised approach in implementing the initiative so that it meets the personal needs of your business, as well as understanding how to get the most from more complex, less ‘9am-5pm’ structured teams.  Viewing this as a way to maximise productivity and competitiveness for not only your organisation, but for the wider economy, rather than as a threat, will help drive positive change.  After all, implementing flexible working for those employees who request it will positively impact their work-life balance and make them happier, more engaged employees overall.  Susannah Clements, the CIPD deputy chief executive, emphasised the significance of HR professionals being well equipped to provide the required support to management too.

What legislative code is there behind the initiative?  Well, the conciliation service ACAS’ published code of practice provides employers with the required advice and information about consideration of flexible working requests.  As CIPD mention in their article, this code outlines that “requests have to be dealt with within three-months, and they can only be rejected if they meet one of eight specific criteria.”  This should help guide handling of flexible working applications and support employees to meet their individual circumstances.

In summary, this initiative can positively impact your team and organisation if dealt with appropriately and giving each employee’s request the time and respect it deserves.  With much discussion about the lack of employee engagement in today’s workforce, flexible working hours has the potential to be a significant driver in increasing morale as well as well-being.