It has now been a little over a year since the right to request flexible working arrangements was extended to all employees with more than 26 weeks continuous service, rather than just carers or those with responsibility for a child. Great news for all you would have thought, but Government research earlier this year revealed that the take up of flexible working had increased only marginally during this period. So what’s the reason for the lack of take up? It’s more than likely to be a combination of factors ranging from lack of employee knowledge of their options and fear of job security, to outdated employer attitudes to flexible working.
There are many forms that flexible working may take including: part-time, flexi-time, shift work, home-working, job share, compressed hours and annualised hours.
Unfortunately, in some industries (such as legal and financial services) the stigma of not conforming to a strict virtual 24/7 work lifestyle can dissuade many employees from even enquiring about the possibility of flexible working. In others, there are can also be restrictive issues that employers must take into account when determining if they can accept a request to allow flexible working. These may include:
Employing more than one person to cover a full time job costs more than just employing one individual;
It may be difficult to structure workloads around part-time workers;
Whether clients and customers’ immediate day to day needs can be met; and
Trusting employees to work as intensively at home as in the office.
Where possible, employers should do their utmost to create an environment where their employees feel confident to make a flexible working request should they need or want to. Flexible working employees should not be made to feel less committed to the job, or that they are not still interested in promotion and prospects, either by the boss, or their fellow colleagues. Having a clear HR policy in place is obviously a starting point, but open dialogue about the subject should also be encouraged.
The “Millennial Generation” has had a stronger voice in expressing their desire for work/life balance than any beforehand. With more working women, single parents and changes in domestic and family situations, the notion of a nine-to-five, five days a week standard working pattern is fast becoming a thing of the past. By accepting and embracing these changes in society, employers can take advantage of the benefits to be had: reduced absenteeism, workforce adaptability, greater staff retention and company reputation. After all, research shows that those who are able to work flexibly are actually more committed to the organisation they work for than those who don’t; the mutual respect and trust that arises from such a situation encourages loyalty on everyone’s behalf.
This article first appeared in "In Business" Magazine 2015
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