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Flex your muscles in April


Flex those musclesOn 6 April 2009, the right to request flexible working is being extended to parents of children aged 16 or under. In the current economic climate some employers see this as the last thing they need, whilst others embrace this change as an opportunity to improve their organisation, says Tim Holden.

Requesting flexible working

Last year we implemented a scheme with a client which made use of the interactive Directgov website where employees considering flexible working follow an interactive tool to initially identify a working pattern that met their particular needs. This was followed by a further interactive tool to put together a business case, and then permitted the download of a standard application form. The organisation in question amended their employee handbook to state that a decision on the suitability of the application would be communicated within 21 days of receipt, with the right of appeal if a request was made in writing within seven days.

From the employers’ perspective, we recommend an approach that involves:

  • A feasibility study

  • Development of a business case

  • A pilot scheme

Advantages of flexible working

  1. Productivity is likely to increase, with fewer interruptions and less time spent on commuting

  2. Corporate social responsibility will improve, with reduced carbon emissions as more employees spend time working from home and gainfully improved in community activities

  3. Employer branding will be more positive, as individuals with childcare or eldercare responsibilities will be more likely to apply when vacancies appear

  4. Attrition costs will be reduced, for employees who may have left the organisation due to caring obligations will be more likely to stay

  5. Rates of absenteeism will fall, as employees who feel under the weather will be more likely to work from home rather than make their way to the office

  6. Levels of employee engagement will rise, as employees manage to obtain a better work-life balance which results in a more positive outlook at work

  7. Profits should increase, where a growing organisation can avoid moving to larger premises by increasing the number of employees working flexibly and overheads fall

  8. Avoiding redundancies through the provision of career breaks or sabbaticals

  9. Can lead to annualised hours to save time/money whilst providing a better customer service

Disadvantages of flexible working

  1. Unpredictable levels of service, based on a concern that individuals may act in a less professional manner when away from the office

  2. Loss of control, where ‘out of sight’ may mean ‘out of mind’ and there is a lack of trust

  3. More uncertainty around working commitments, leading to a fear that individuals will be contacted 24/7 and there is never an opportunity to ‘switch off’ from work

  4. Lack of face-to-face interaction may lead to poorer communication and less teamwork, although the IOD Policy Paper ‘Flexible Working – the New World of Work’ contradicts this theory

  5. Varying earnings, depending on the type of flexible working model selected

  6. Administrative changes, including possible alterations to insurance and tax arrangements

Who legally qualifies to apply for flexible working?

Legally, until next month, the following individuals possess a statutory right to request a flexible working pattern, although a request can be made by any employee.
Employees who are neither agency workers nor employed in the armed forces with 26 weeks continuous service with the employer, have the statutory right to ask if they:

  • Have a child under six or a disabled child under 18 who receives Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

  • Are responsible for the child as a parent/guardian/special guardian/foster parent/private foster carer or as the holder of a residence order

  • Are the spouse, partner or civil partner of one of these and are applying to care for the child

  • Act as a carer who cares, or expects to be caring, for an adult who is a spouse, partner, civil partner or relative; or who although not related to you, lives at the same address as you

However, this will change on 6 April 2009, when the right to request flexible working is extended to parents of children aged 16 or under.

Considering other requests for flexible working

Since the recession took hold, we have identified a trend to seriously consider all requests for shorter hours or more flexible working hours. This reflects the need to provide non-financial reward for employees working under stressful conditions and perhaps covering for former colleagues made redundant, plus the fact that pay freezes are becoming commonplace.

  • Last month we met with an organisation that allows a young lady to play sport at a relatively high level. Although she does not meet the legal eligibility criteria, her request was accepted as a way of retaining her services. It was felt that by accommodating her position she is likely to have more loyalty towards the firm, plus it is unlikely she will leave as few employers would be comfortable allowing her to participate in mid-week events and attend training sessions during normal working hours. It is felt that this also sends a message that the organisation encourages health and wellbeing: absence figures are significantly below the industry average.

  • A client of ours allows a high-performing junior employee (who would be difficult to replace) to finish at Friday lunchtime when the weather is fine to go sailing.

  • Yet another organisation permits a long-standing employee to start work earlier and so finish earlier in the summer so he can go fishing in the late afternoon.

At some point in the future the economy will begin to grow again, and only by the retention and attraction of talent will employers obtain a competitive advantage that will allow them to seize the opportunities generated by the upturn. With this in mind, we recommend that wherever possible flexible working should be extended to all employees to ensure the organisation remains/becomes a modern employer of choice.

Tim Holden is managing director of Fluid Consulting Limited.

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