From 2014 the government proposes to extend flexible working to all employees in an effort to promote economic growth through a strong and efficient labour market having undertaken a consultation exercise in 2011.  Flexible working was brought into force during 2003 and already parents and carers benefit from being able to make flexible working requests.  ACAS will be developing a Code of Practice on flexible working to support the new law.

The new legislation will replace the current statutory procedure where employers will need to consider flexible working requests within a specified time frame; employers will have the duty to deal with requests in a reasonable manner within a reasonable time frame.  This is being introduced as the government consultation identified that many employers find the existing statutory procedure too prescriptive and time frames inflexible. A statutory code of practice will give guidance on the meaning of reasonable.  Employers will be provided with guidance on how to tackle conflicting requests when received at the same time.  The current requirement to have 26 weeks qualifying period of continuous service will remain.

Flexible working can take many forms – part time working, term time working, job-shares, home-working, compressed hours and flexitime and brings with it both advantages and disadvantages.

The advantages to businesses include being able to hold onto valuable staff, having a wider talent pool, reducing absenteeism, increasing commitment from employees and improving productivity.  A business might also be able to extend opening hours due to the wider availability of the workforce. The government consultation exercise highlighted some employer concerns over the extension of flexible working such as an increased burden and threat of employment tribunals for increased declines in flexible working requests if they can not be accommodated.  Smaller businesses have to ensure they have enough staff available to cover the required hours.  This could be more difficult due to lower levels of employees compared to larger organisations. 

Flexible working benefits employees with a better work life balance so that they have more time to spend with their families or undertake hobbies. Childcare costs may also be reduced.  With employer permission they can travel into work and avoid rush hour traffic, therefore arriving more refreshed.  For those employees who are allowed to work at home all or part of the week, there are the benefits of reduced fuel and motor maintenance costs.

However flexible working without a supervisor being present may cause difficulties for some employees who may be unable to take the initiative or need direction with their duties.  Employees who are not personally motivated may struggle to stay on task and give the job “their all” so that productivity is affected.  Another disadvantage could be that communication and team working may be affected.

The government are confident that the introduction of flexible working for all with bring huge benefits to businesses as well as encouraging a more motivated engaged workforce.  Time will tell…..