Flexible working – what is changing?

Last week, the government announced a new plan to expand the ‘Right to Request’ flexible working patterns to all employees. Previously this was only available to parents with children under 16. The main aim of the initiative is to boost the job market and make it more inclusive to mothers and single parents.

So what is counted as flexible working? It comes in many forms:

  • Part- time hours
  • Job sharing – 2 people do the job of 1 person
  • Working from home some days or all week
  • Compressed hours – full time hours over 4 or less working days per week
  • Flexi–time – Core hours are set with the rest chosen by the employee
  • Annualised hours – an annual target of hours, usually with a core working pattern

In May 2012, the CIPD published the ‘Flexible working provision and uptake’ survey with the finding that 96% of employers already offer one or more of the above flexi–working patterns, however, uptake has been slow to date. Although three quarters of employees use some form of flexi-time, these options are mainly utilised by part time workers and it should be made easier to work full time hours in a flexible way. This would ensure that people can fit their work around their lifestyle while still earning a decent living.

The general consensus among employees is that flexi-time allows more time to exercise, socialise and relax. It improves employee’s work ethic when in the office and the quality of their day-to-day lives. Statistically, 75% of employers offering flexible working say that it has a positive impact on staff retention while 72% say that in increases employee engagement. Flexible working is a great option for employees, but despite its benefits it may not always be so simple for the employers.

Depending on the line of work, offering flexible working to everyone could have a detrimental effect on operations or even a negative impact financially. Some business functions have to be delivered at very specific times and working around individual preferences for flexible working is simply not an option.

The CIPD mentions ‘organisational pressures’ as the greatest barrier to flexible working provision. Many feel that customer service requirements could suffer from part time working patterns or job sharing where the clients deal with different people on different days. This can create difficulties in communication or delays in response times. Morale may also suffer if workloads are split unfairly and a blame culture can arise when complications over responsibility become apparent.

Formalising the ‘Right to Request’ for all staff is a positive step encouraging employers to consider smarter ways of working but it undermines the fact that many companies are already offering flexible arrangements where possible. Making an informal practice more formal doesn’t mean that the take-up will increase and, as Ian Dormer wrote in the Telegraph, it certainly won’t make the process simpler. Employers can still decline the request on the basis of cost, detrimental impact on business or inability to re-allocate the responsibilities (the full list of criteria is outlined in this ACAS guide) and so formalising the process won’t necessarily guarantee access to flexi-time for the individuals it is aimed to help. It may even lead to heightened disengagement or grievances as a result of declined requests, as Paula Whelan warns.

Honeydew Health Ltd