11 June 2014
All employees now have the right to request flexible working. What does this mean for your business and are you ready to manage staff requests?
Changes are coming into force on 30th June, giving all employees the right to request flexible working. Is your small business ready?
Currently the right to request flexible working only extends to: parents of children under the age of 17; parents with disabled children under the age of 18; or carers, providing they’ve been employed by the business for 26 continuous weeks.
A request to work flexibly could be to change the number of hours worked, such as going part time, changing when they work, such as working a condensed week or starting work later, or it could be a wish to change where the they work.
The important point to note is that the changes will give more employees the right to request a change to how they work, not the automatic right to work flexibly.
As with the current procedure, you can refuse the request if there are legitimate business reasons against it, for example, if it would increase costs for your company or if there would not be enough work to do during the times the employee wants to work. However, you will need to prove that you’ve considered the application fully and fairly.
Also unchanged is the fact that staff can only make a formal request once every 12 months.
A survey by YouGov was commissioned to estimate the impact of these changes. From the 2,000+ workers questioned, 26% said they would request flexible working when the law changes. That’s over a quarter, so a significant number of staff.
The survey also found:
According to the research, the most popular flexi-working choices would be:
According to RSA’s Flex Factor report, only half of employees work for companies with formalised flexi-working. However, a survey by the Institute of Leadership and Management found that 94% of organisations offer some flexible options, so chances are your small business is already flexible to some degree, even if you don’t have a formal flexible working policy.
We’ve mentioned studies in previous posts that suggest flexible working can be good for both businesses and their employees. Staff can benefit from a better work-life balance, increased happiness and better focus at work. They can also save time and money if they’re not commuting as much. In return, companies can benefit from reduced costs associated with their business premises, less absenteeism and higher moral, plus reap the benefit of increased productivity. The Flex report calculated the value of the extra productive hours gained as £6.9billion!
Even if you don't think you'll be inundated with requests, you should start considering what sort of flexibility is possible within your business now (if you haven't already) and how to ensure that requests are managed consistently and fairly. For example, if you received two identical requests to work condensed hours but approving both of them would leave you short-staffed, what would you do?
While flexible working can bring many benefits, if it's not managed correctly, it can also cause problems, such as reduced performance and conflict between staff. Potential challenges include:
Whatever size company your business is, the new legislation has the potential to change the normal expectation of working 9am - 5pm, so it makes sense to start thinking about how your company can adapt and benefit from it.