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Embrace benefits of flexible working extension


Businesses have been advised to embrace the benefits that come with the extended flexible working legislation, but must ensure comprehensive policies and procedures are in place now.

It is anticipated that the extension to the right to request flexible working to parents of children aged up to 16 will come into force in April 2009. Although many small businesses have expressed concern over the new regulations, experts have advised them to realise the benefits it can bring, including staff morale and productivity, as well as recruitment and retention advantages.

Phil Flaxton, chief executive of Work Wise UK, said that there is no need for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to worry about the extended legislation: “Some SMEs will simply ‘stick their heads in the sand’ and hope it will all go away: it will not. They need to be made aware of the potential benefits of flexible working, and other smarter working practices, not only to their staff, but also to their company.”

He added: “Smarter working has been shown time and again to increase staff productivity and reduce costs, as well as improving staff wellbeing and providing a better work-life balance. BT has been pioneering the concept of smarter working for over a decade and has seen productivity improvements of 20%.”

In addition, legal experts have said that it is important to remember that it is just a ‘right to request’ flexible working, and does not always have to be accepted.

Rachel Dineley, employment partner at Beachcroft LLP, said: “Any initial concerns from employers are understandable, as businesses already have to grapple with accommodating maternity, paternity, adoption and parental leave. It is important to note, however, that employers are able to decline flexible working requests, as long as they can give one of eight valid business reasons for doing so.”

Employment relations minister Pat McFadden said: “One of the reasons that this legislation has been successful is because it is a right to request, and there is a recognition of the legitimate needs of the business, where after proper consideration, if there is a strong reason against it, the business can say no.”

Dineley added that ensuring flexible working works in your company may, initially, be a case of trial and error. “The key to success is in ensuring that those involved are flexible in their approach. It requires the co-operation of both managers and colleagues. An open dialogue as to the likely problems, and how they may be overcome, requires a confident and mature approach to the issues; employers must have the courage of their convictions as to how best to manage their business.”

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