Is 2017 the Year of Flexible Working?

With over 13 years experience as a HR Manager in a number of multi million pound organisations in the Construction Industry, Donna Billson has real life experience with the qualifications to match. Donna is an accomplished, award winning online social media addict and blogger, not to mention mother of two. She rarely drinks a cup of tea while it is still warm

As we enter 2017 flexible working agreements continue to rise in the UK. A study conducted by the Lancaster University Work Foundation found that over half of UK businesses are now offering flexible working arrangements to their employees but how do they work in the best interests of both the employer and employee?

It is argued that flexible working arrangements with varying unstructured hours may decrease social interaction at work and many employers fear that traditional office culture, workforce interaction and ease of access could be lost if colleagues are allowed to work remotely. However, it is now estimated that by 2020, over 70% of UK businesses will be offering flexible working schedules to their staff. So we take a look at a case study and the benefits of a flexible working request.

Case Study

Michelle was a long serving member of staff when she became pregnant, she confided in a member of the team that she was worried about returning to work full time and wanted to know if the Company might consider part time working. The HR team discussed a variety of options with Michelle and suggested that she consider how she felt after the arrival of her baby as many new mums feel differently once baby is actually here.

Michelle stayed in touch throughout her maternity leave and when she decided she wanted to return, the Company encouraged her to put her request in writing.

Flexible working was not something that had been dealt with previously but the Company looked at the potential loss of a highly experienced member of staff and the subsequent cost to the business both from a recruitment and training perspective. Michelle’s workload had been covered by her colleagues during her maternity leave, so it was agreed that she could work “school hours” so that she was able to collect her baby from nursery and work from home if needed, which meant that she felt fulfilled both from a personal and professional perspective.

It was important that the Company dealt with her requests in a ‘reasonable manner’.
Examples of handling requests in a reasonable manner include:
• assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the application
• holding a meeting to discuss the request with the employee
• offering an appeal process (if applicable)

It is evident that the workplace is adapting to meet the needs of the modern era, global trade and 24/7 online access means businesses must be available when and where their clients and customers need them – and this is increasingly outside of ‘normal’ office hours, This obviously no longer just applies to parents. There are many forms of flexible working and the term can be used to describe a place of work, for example homeworking, or a type of contract, such as a temporary contract. The increase of technology available enables people to easily work remotely and this suggests flexible work patterns are on the rise as the workplace shifts into the age of technology.

Employee Benefits

Flexible work schedules benefit employees as they can potentially miss the rush hour commute, choose to shorten a lunch break and leave earlier and in many cases may increase productivity as the task no longer has to fit the time. In summary:

• It allows them to meet family needs or personal obligations.
• Flexible working patterns mean that an employee can work when they feel fresh and motivated.
• An employee can beat rush hour traffic therefore reducing stress.
• Less stress leads to a higher job satisfaction rate.
• By removing the shackles of a standard 8 hour day there is a greatly increased sense of trust and responsibility bestowed on an employee to prove they can be just as effective in a flexible environment.

Employer Benefits

As noted above, employer’s benefit from flexible working hours as it increases job satisfaction for employees.

• Reducing staff turnover and hiring costs for an employer.
• Employees who feel empowered to structure their personal and work lives are more likely to stay loyal.
• The ability to operate outside of conventional business hours – giving customers a better experience when they need it
• Several studies suggests that the workplace is more productive due to lower stress levels.

The Global Benefits Attitude survey discovered that a high level of stress caused workers to disengage from a workplace and this study showed that a high stress level is directly related to low productivity.

Generally the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, however flexible working schedules do not benefit all businesses. Currently, more than a quarter (26%) of working mothers have had a request for flexible working denied and almost one in five of these working mothers were consequently forced to leave their jobs. A poll of 1011 working parents discovered that those in higher paid jobs are more likely to be offered flexible work than those in lower paid roles.

There have been significant changes in the UK that have contributed to the popularity of current flexible work schedules. Prior to 2014, only employees with children, or those who provided care for a dependent adult, had the right to request flexible work. Now that right is given to all employees who have had at least 26 weeks of service with a company. An employer has no obligation to fulfill a request, however they must deal with a request in a reasonable manner which could include holding a meeting to discuss current working arrangements and a review of how this would work for both parties. Many employers are now choosing flexible work schedules due to the many benefits to the business, some of which are outlined above.

Ultimately flexible working arrangements have to meet the needs of the business but whether you agree or disagree with flexible work patterns, it is clear that employers and employees alike are benefiting from employment flexibility and this is set to increase in the future.

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