Is flexible working the cornerstone of a successful business?
Working 09:00 to 17:00, five days a week, has been the accepted standard for so long that we just sort of take it for granted that this is how people should work. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself why?
Really, is there any logic to working eight hours a day, Monday to Friday, with exactly the same hours each week? Does it make people more productive or accountable? Studies show that this is not the case. In fact, according to research, the average worker is only productive for about three hours in an eight hour day.
And this is to say nothing of the effect that such rigid hours can have on stress levels and the work/life balance.
Flexible working allows people to give their best at a time that works for them. It can be difficult to manage, but done right, you can expect a significant boost to employee engagement, motivation and productivity.
What is Flexible Working?
Flexible working is any working pattern that isn’t the standard 09:00 to 17:00 is defined. Examples of flexible working hours include:
- Allowing an employee to start an hour later or leave an hour earlier
- Letting employees work from home, where possible
- Ensuring that employees can leave immediately to handle family care needs, so long as they make up the hours elsewhere
- Letting a full-time member of staff switch to part-time hours
- Compressed hours – letting employees work their contracted hours across fewer days
- Flexi-time – letting employees work any pattern that works for them, so long as they meet a defined number of hours
- Job-sharing – splitting a full-time job between multiple employees who agree the hours between them
Anything that forces you to reconsider your staffing levels and your timetables can cause problems. But really, you shouldn’t view flexible working as a challenge, but as an opportunity.
It’s an opportunity to demonstrate to your employees that you understand and respect their needs. If they see you making allowances to their unique requirements, they could feel more valued, more motivated, and less likely to leave. And if you let your employees work at a time that suits them, you might expect a significant boost to productivity.
Studies show that flexible working will be the standard for more than 70% of the workforce by 2020.
Employees will soon expect to be able to work flexibly. So the sooner you can establish a flexible working policy for your business, the sooner you can start to meet your employees’ expectations while enjoying the many benefits that flexible working can bring.
The Benefits of Flexible Working
Some jobs are inherently stressful, and stress is very bad for business.
You’ll never be able to entirely eliminate stress from your workplace. But there are many ways you can limit the impact it has on productivity and employee wellbeing.
A key method of managing stress in the workplace is to promote a good work/life balance. This means letting employees take the time off they need, whenever they need it. But a flexible working policy can also help. The idea is that work should never be allowed to get in the way of life’s more pressing-issues, from new-born babies to dental appointments.
Flexible working essentially means treating your employees like people. They’re complex individuals with rich lives and unique requirements, so you should treat them as such. And studies show that if you’re good to your employees, they’ll be good to you too.
Vodafone recently conducted a survey of 8,000 employers and employees across the world. They found that, of the companies with a flexible working policy:
- 58% report a positive impact to their profile
- 83% report a rise in productivity
- 61% report a boost to profits
Flexible working is good for your people, and very good for business. It’s fast becoming expected, and with good reason.
So has your business got a flexible working policy? If not, your question shouldn’t be “does my business need a flexible working policy?” It should be “why hasn’t my business got a flexible working policy yet?”
Flexible Working and UK Law
For too long, the myth has prevailed that flexible working is only for new parents, or for employees with sick or elderly relatives to care for.
But in reality, any employee has a legal right to request flexible working patterns. Legally, it’s known as making a statutory application, and the only prerequisite is that the employee making the application must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible.
If you receive such a statutory application, you’re legally required to deal with the request in a “reasonable manner”. This means assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the application. It means meeting the employee to discuss their request in detail, and offering an appeal process if you feel the need to turn down their request.
There’s a very useful guide for handling flexible working requests in a reasonable manner on the government’s website. Find it here.
What to Include in your Flexible Working Policy
First, you need to explain why you have a flexible working policy. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate how you truly understand your employees’ needs.
Next, you need to outline your employees’ legal rights to make a request for flexible working. They’re free to do so once they’ve worked for you for more than 26 weeks. Explain that the request must be in writing, clearly dated, and clearly identified as a flexible working request. The employee must give as much information as possible about the change they’d like to see, and they must state the business benefits they believe the flexible working will bring.
To avoid disputes down the line, your flexible working policy should outline the circumstances in which you might turn down a flexible working request. For example, some types of flexible working could incur additional costs. Letting one employee go part-time might mean recruiting additional staff to make up a shortfall, which can always be a challenge.
If the flexible working request involves working irregular, compressed or flexi-hours, your flexible working policy should outline the process by which employees must record their hours. The idea is that their flexible working never creates any inconvenience for clients, customers, or the rest of the team.
This is where our absence management system can help. Any employee can see, at a glance, just how many other members of the team will be working on any given day. This makes managing flexible working patterns easy, as it will be clear to everyone how a change in working patterns will affect productivity.
Can Flexible Working Go Too Far?
Flexible working is fast becoming the standard method of working. If you don’t offer flexible working policies, your competitors probably will. So if you want to continue to attract the talent your business needs to succeed, you’ll have to be flexible.
But that said, if you don’t manage flexible working properly, it can create problems for your business.
Working from home is an increasingly popular form of flexible working. But simply letting every employee work from home whenever they want can be a recipe for disaster. Read our essential guide to the pros and cons of working from home policies here.
Also, some businesses take flexible working to its logical conclusion and offer employees unlimited annual leave. Employees can take as much time off as they need, whenever they need it. It sounds too good to be true. And in many cases, it is. Whereas unlimited annual leave has transformed some businesses, this policy may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Read our guide to the pros and cons of unlimited annual leave here.
Ultimately, flexible working is simply a way of treating your employees like adults. It shows that you understand that everyone has different needs, and everyone works differently. It’s a means of championing your employees’ wellbeing. As such, if managed correctly, it’s going to have an overall positive effect on your people and your practices.
We collaborated with Perkbox to create an essential guide to employee wellbeing. Our free guide will show you how to make flexible working a central part of a holistic employee wellbeing program.