A guide to flexible working for employers

Here is workingwise’s comprehensive guide to flexible working, including legislation, procedure and tips for employers.

 

Here is workingwise.co.uk’s comprehensive guide to flexible working.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working embraces changes in standard working patterns, whether that is in relation to when or where work takes place.

It includes, for example:

  • Part Time Hours
  • Flexi-time/Flexi-hours
  • Compressed Working Hours
  • Annualised Hours
  • Job Sharing
  • Shift Work
  • Working from Home

Background

The reason for the shift towards more flexible ways of working is complex and includes technological advances, but it mainly centres on demographic and social change, such as the increase in women in the workforce, moves towards more equal parenting, delayed retirement and the fact that older people are living longer.

Legislative requirements

Flexible working legislation originally applied only to parents and carers, but due to changing attitudes to work, the right to request flexible working was extended to all employees in 2014.

Why should employers take flexible working seriously?

There are many benefits for employers who adopt more flexible working practices which work for both employer and employee. Research shows enabling employees to better balance work and other commitments reduces absenteeism and sickness.

It also improves retention rates, increases loyalty and motivation and so reduces recruitment costs. In addition it means that employers can more effectively cover their customers’ needs given the global environment in which we now work. More importantly, it is now one of the key search terms for jobseekers, meaning employers with good flexible working cultures are likely to attract the best candidates.

At a time of skills shortages and the so-called ‘war for talent’ this is crucial for business success. Then there are the wider social benefits associated, for instance, with parents having adequate time to spend with their families

Aside from any social arguments, there are robust business benefits to be gained from being more progressive than you have been historically: Think creatively yet logically: Home working can reduce overhead costs for employers (eg desk/office sharing) so by recognising the amount of work that is done in many roles using today’s technology ie computers, telephone etc, employers can often utilise home working requests to their advantage – limited interruptions too can serve to increase productivity.

The rules…

To be eligible to apply to work flexibly the applicant must…

  • Be an employee with 26 weeks continuous service on the date the application is made.
  • Not have made another application to work flexibly under this right during the past 12 months.

Making the application…

The application from the individual must be made to the employer in writing by email or letter.The application must include:

  • the date
  • a statement that this is a statutory request
  • details of how the employee wants to work flexibly and when they want to start
  • an explanation of how they think flexible working might affect the business and how this could be dealt with, eg if they’re not at work on certain days
  • a statement saying if and when they’ve made a previous application

The process

The basic steps are:

  • The employee writes to the employer.
  • The employer considers the request and makes a decision within 3 months – or longer if agreed with the employee. Employers must deal with 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; and offering an appeal process.
  • If the employer agrees to the request, they must change the terms and conditions in the employee’s contract. This should be done as soon as possible, but no later than 28 days after the request was approved.
  • If the employer disagrees, they must write to the employee giving the business reasons for the refusal. The employee may be able to complain to an employment tribunal.

Tips for managers…

When considering the request, managers should be open to different approaches and to thinking outside the box and ask themselves the following questions:

Job analysis

  • Do the employee’s proposed hours fit in with the tasks outlined in the role?
  • If not, could the tasks be divided up differently?
  • Could you re-allocate some of the work to another team member?
  • What will be the impact on customers of this change – could it be used to our customers’ advantage?
  • Is there a compromise that could be reached that will satisfy the individual’s requirements as well as the company’s objectives?

Managing the new arrangements

  • How will the new arrangements be supervised and performance measured? Ensure outputs can be measured where possible and not the number of hours worked – set clear objectives and measure quality of service/work.
  • Obtain & give feedback regularly.
  • Will the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs of implementing the change?
  • Will there be any Health and Safety considerations? (For example, a Health and Safety Workstation assessment will need to be completed for those working from home).

Impact on the team

  • Advise other team members of the change
  • Ensure flexible workers remain informed and arrange for all important information to be forwarded onto them
  • Involved flexible workers in all aspects of team-working
  • Consider offering flexible working to those not covered by the Flexible Working regulations – this will help to combat any resentment from those employees who may have non-parental reasons for wanting to work flexibly (studying, outside interests, voluntary work, caring for other relatives etc)

How can I make it work in practice?

Some common challenges and responses are discussed below:

Job shares may mean some additional costs (due to some overlap of hours for handover purposes, some benefits not able to be pro-rated eg Private Medical Insurance etc), this should be balanced against potential gains, for instance, the job share pair’s different skills / work style preferences may well complement each other well to provide the employer with a wider array of skills and abilities.

Homeworking can often be an ideal solution for companies wishing to implement office/desk sharing thus saving in overhead costs. Furthermore, certain duties / aspects of a role can be carried out very productively from home – with no office distractions or interruptions. Whilst historically there have been concerns about how to manage employees remotely, many companies now measure success on outputs / quality of work and have found that some home working can be extremely productive. It may be worth reviewing your approach to Appraisals and criteria for measuring performance – remember just because someone is located in the office where you can ‘supervise’ them, it doesn’t mean they’re more productive than someone working from home with specific duties / tasks to perform.

A Workstation Assessment should be carried out to ensure compliance with Health & Safety regulations and consideration needs to be given to confidentiality of information being accessed from home – but these issues are easily overcome and can be outweighed by cost savings and increased productivity, as well as higher employee motivation & commitment.

Preventing resentment amongst staff who are not covered by this legislation can be a perceived challenge for some employers. One of the best ways to overcome this is to communicate clearly that the request flexible workingis open to all employees.

Whilst the concept sounds appealing, you will likely find that many employees choose more informal flexible working. This enables greater flexibility than a formal request, as this represents a permanent change to the employee’s terms and conditions. However, if the employer subsequently wants to change an informal flexible working pattern the employee has fewer rights.  Informal flexible working can include occasional home working on certain types of work, extended unpaid leave during quieter business periods and staggered start and finish times.

Refusing the application? …

Any refusal will need to be made to the application in writing.  You will need to give a valid legitimate business reason if you are going to refuse the request, and you will need to think about your reasons carefully. Applications for flexible working arrangements can be refused only for the following reasons:

  • The additional costs will impose a burden.
  • Agreeing to the request will have a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand.
  • Inability to re-organise work among existing staff.
  • Inability to recruit additional staff.
  • Agreeing to the request will have a detrimental impact on quality.
  • Agreeing to the request will have a detrimental impact on performance.
  • There is insufficient work during the periods the employee proposes to work.
  • There are planned structural changes.

The reason needs to be detailed clearly in the letter. There is no statutory right to appeal against a rejection, but it is advised under the terms of handling a request in a reasonable fashion.

Failure to follow the guidelines could lead to a claim – the time limit for bringing a claim to an employment tribunal is three months from the date the employee is notified of the decision on appeal or breach of this procedure.

If the claim is successful, the tribunal may order the employer to reconsider the request and award maximum compensation of eight weeks’ pay.

*With thanks to HR expert Jane Barclay.



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