With the long-awaited extension of the colloquially known “flexible working” regime taking effect from tomorrow, my thoughts turn, as they often do to the complex nature of the working relationship which is governed by the law, but also influenced by political, economic, social and psychological forces.
For about 11 years, employees with caring responsibilities for children or adults have had a statutory right to request an alteration to their working arrangements (hours, days or place of work) to enable them to fulfil those responsibilities. That’s a right to ask for and have their request considered reasonably, not a right to have. The way the introduction of this law was written about at the time, you’d have thought it would single-handedly destroy the entire British economy.
Guess what. That didn’t happen.
As of tomorrow, the requirement for the requested variation to be for the purpose of fulfilling care responsibilities is removed. So any employee with 6+ months’ continuous employment can ask to vary their working arrangements. It is still a right to ask for and have their request considered reasonably, not a right to have. Or to put it another way:
YOU CAN SAY NO IF IT DOESN’T WORK FOR THE BUSINESS. THERE IS NO NEED TO PANIC.
There’s a statutory Code of Practice and additional guidance to help employers navigate the new expanded regime, freely available on the Acas website. As ever, Acas come up trumps with practical, easy reading material – even if the titles of these documents are a bit of a mouthful…
Will THIS be the downfall of the British economy? Highly unlikely, in spite of what some quarters of the media would have you believe.
Yes, it will take time and resources to consider each request on its own merits. Yes, it has potential to cause issues with conflicting requests. But I like to keep my glass at least half full (as those of you who know me will testify), so I would like to suggest that businesses could actually benefit from having to consider variations to working arrangements for ALL their employees.
Last week, I was sent the results of the Glassdoor 2014 Flexible Working Survey. Of the 2081 individuals asked, 50% of them said they felt they would “work better” if working flexibly. I take that to mean that they would be happier at work (and one assumes potentially more productive).
I believe that it is in every employer’s interests to be reasonable and fair to its employees. Not just legal interests, although that is naturally an important aspect and the law does expect that from employers. But I also believe very strongly that a business’ commercial fortunes depend partly on the way in which employees are treated and how much a part of the business they feel.
I have written elsewhere about the concept of employee engagement and its proven benefit to a business’ bottom line. FACT: Employees who feel valued and respected at work give more back and the business enjoys greater success because of its employees rather than in spite of them. What’s not to like?
It would be naïve to assume that every request could be accommodated and of course there will be employees who are aggrieved at having their requests turned down. That is already the case for the category of employees who already have the right to request and we know from the experience of the last 11 or so years that you can’t please everyone all of the time. However, I believe that businesses who allow themselves to have a genuinely open mind on flexible working for all would generate goodwill and could see engagement levels increase as a result.
I have seen with my own eyes businesses introducing flexitime with a flourish, then leaving the system to be administered by managers whose stance is “well, we’re not having any of that flexible working rubbish in my department”. That, sadly, is not what I would call a genuinely open mind.
Gemma Reucroft, HR Director at Tunstall Healthcare (and widely renowned HR thought leader*), wrote recently about employee engagement by numbers and the false impression this can generate. There’s no short cut. You can’t buy it. You can’t insist on it. You certainly can’t fake it.
Flexible working is just one example of a measure which can impact positively on employee engagement. Treat your employees as individuals, respect them and their personal lives and seek to accommodate them where that can be done without detriment to the commercial objectives of the business. You will not only be complying with the newly-extended law on flexible working, but may also benefit your business into the bargain.
For more information about flexible working or about getting the best from your employees, call us on 01604 763494 or fill in the contact form.
*That’s the current buzz phrase for someone who talks a lot of sense. In case you were wondering.