“Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, eg having flexible start and finish times, or working from home.”

Flexible working isn’t just for parents, carers, civil servants, or any other group of workers you may have already made an assumption about. It’s been two years since the UK Government announced that it’s for all of us.

That’s right, employees have a statutory right to request flexible working once they have completed 25 weeks or more of service for an employer. The benefits to both employer and employee can be far more advantageous than typical benefits such as an extra half-day annual leave or a nominal cash bonus.

What are the forms of flexible working?

  • Working from home
  • Working less hours/doing the same hours over more days
  • Starting/finishing earlier or later
  • Sharing a job with someone else

And the benefits?

Flexible working is a no-brainer to me, I strongly believe we all could do with a better work-life balance and flexible working could mean that parents such as myself, get to go to the summer fair at school for once. It could allow aspiring coaches can take on the junior football team after all. Crikey, it could even mean that some of us could actually make it to a dentist appointment on time.

Working more flexibly could also give a boost to those who are more productive outside of core working hours. For example, I find myself to be most creative at 5:00am and more able to focus on financial tasks post-lunchtime.

For the employer, it can help to improve employee performance and engagement. A flexible approach also goes a long way to building employee loyalty – if employees were happier, and felt their needs were being met, why would they look elsewhere for a job?

Allowing staff to work from home can also greatly increase job applications and diversity of candidates. In fact, this is becoming a standard for office workers.

In a lot of cases where workers are covering the same hours but across more days, employers are finding them to have an increased focus on tasks.

What are the challenges for employers?

Flexibility is becoming more mainstream and we are seeing a rise in freelancers, but the change in working culture doesn’t appear to have hit all businesses as quickly as one would hope. I’ve heard business owners brush requests aside with such comments as “we don’t offer special treatment here” and “it’s not a part-time job you know” in response to requests for flexible working.

Bad attitudes aside, more ‘reasonable’ employer concerns include the idea that some creative thinking and discussion happens via impromptu team discussions – in the office. Home-workers and those who are working flexible hours may not benefit from idea sharing as often as office-based staff.

As an employer, what should I do?

Unless the request severely impacts the business or ability to carry out the agreed duties, the request should be seriously evaluated and all scenarios explored to see how the change could be accommodated. This shouldn’t just focus on negative impact, but also involve looking at the positive implications such as increased health and morale, lower absence rate, and the possibility of a reduced payroll. Existing and future employees are looking for better reasons to work for you than a decent salary. In order to attract talent and expertise, employers should be considering alternative working structures now or face missing out on skilled workers seeking a more modern company to work for. You can get the low-down on the legalities of flexible working on the GOV.UK website.

If you’d like an impartial voice to enable your company discussions around flexible working, drop me a line.

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