Flexible working, also known as agile working, has become a trend. So much so, that it is now an accommodation that companies must legally attempt to provide, due to the ever expanding and global workplace. Our daily lives have become busier than ever. Any parents out there will know how difficult it can be, juggling picking the kids up from school and earning a reasonable wage. That’s where flexible working comes in.
The ability to work from home has been around for a while, but flexible working is more than that. As outlined by the Gov.UK website, Flexible working is:
- a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, eg having flexible start and finish times, or working from home
- All employees have the legal right to request flexible working – not just parents and carers
- This is known as ‘making a statutory application’
- Employees must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible
A more concise summary is that flexible working is the name given to any type of working pattern which is different from your existing one. With technology providing a plethora of accessible options, flexible working is a potential reality for all. The benefits of being able to adjust your starting and finishing times, along with the option of remote working, gives employees a chance to find a better work/life balance and employers the opportunity to maintain productivity and keep loyal employees.
Are you eligible (there are exceptions)?
Even though the above has stated that all employees have a legal right to request flexible working, we must state (for more legal reasons) that there are exceptions and therefore you are not entitled to statutory flexible working if you:
- are a member of the armed forces
- are an agency worker. However, agency workers who are returning from parental leave do have the right to make a flexible working request
- have asked for flexible working within the previous twelve months, whether your request was agreed to or not
- are an employee shareholder, unless you have returned from parental leave in the last 14 days.
What is flexible working?
Now that the legal bit is out of the way, let’s focus on what you can do with flexible working, what are the most common ways of achieving a better work/life balance. The possible arrangements are plentiful so it is rather like a pick and mix shop. There are the possibilities of:
- changing from full-time to part-time work
- changing the part-time hours that you work, for example, from weekends to week days
- changing working hours to fit in with, for example, school hours, college hours or care arrangements
- compressed hours, that is, working your usual hours in fewer days
- flexitime, which allows you to fit your working hours around agreed core times
- home working for part or all of the time
- job sharing
- self-rostering. This is most often found in hospitals and care services. You put forward the times you would like to work. Once staff levels and skills are worked out, the shift pattern is drawn up, matching your preferences as closely as possible
- shift working
- staggered hours, these allow you to start and finish your days at different times. This is often useful in the retail sector where it is important to have more staff over the lunchtime period but fewer at the start and end of the day
- time off in lieu
- annualised hours, this means that working time is organised around the number of hours to be worked over a year rather than over a week. Annualised hours work best when there is a rise and fall in workload during the year.
- term-time work, so you don’t work during the school holidays.
Even though it is a legal responsibility, there is still a definite stigma surrounding those that request it. They are often seen as not hard working or non-dedicated. We, as individuals, may know that to not be the case; but there remains a cynical attitude in this country. So, what are the benefits and disadvantages of flexible working? Does flexible working mean that you are a “slacker”? What are your rights?
The Pros and Cons
The advantages and disadvantages are varied, however there seems to be a clear indication that the pros outweigh the cons. However these advantages only come about when flexible working is properly understood and handled correctly by both the employer and the employee. Whether the flexible work schedule involves compressing work days, flexible daily hours, or telecommuting, there are challenges for both sides. Nonetheless, once implemented, it can lead to many benefits.
With flexible work schedules, employees experience these benefits:
- Flexibility to meet family needs, personal obligations and life responsibilities conveniently. If you have a flexible schedule, you can go to your child’s sports day, attend a doctors or dentist appointment, or be home when the plumber comes to fix the boiler.
- It can also be economically and environmentally friendly. If your employees are not having to commute everyday but can work from home, then that can save congestion on the roads, greenhouse emissions from cars, free up public transport and save money on fuel costs and tickets.
- It is also beneficial to an employee’s wellbeing as it can reduce stress, an example being that they are delayed in the commute as their kid is suddenly taken ill.
- Helps employees exert more control over their schedules thus allowing them to perform at their peak times (night owls vs morning larks) or when they can to meet their childcare demands. Also, the ability to self manage is seen as a positive trait for many managers. Allowing people have that option provides a boost in their confidence and self esteem. It also decreases the risk of employee burnout, a common contributor to employee resignations.
Take this example from (link here):
If a couple both have flexible schedules, Mum can go into the office at 6:00 a.m. and Dad can get the kids ready for school. Mum’s 8-hour day is finished by 2:00 p.m. and she is there to meet the bus by 3 p.m., while Dad starts his work day at 9:30 a.m. The result is two full-time jobs and incomes with no additional child care costs.
With flexible work schedules, employers experience these benefits:
- Your employees are happier, less stressed, more productive and are less likely to leave your employ because of all the benefits that flexible working has provided them
- Flexible working has also been shown to reduce sickness and tardiness. It also makes employees less likely to “pull a sickie” and falsely claim time off.
- Provides an image of a great place for people with families to work due to the flexibility you provide.
There are disadvantages too, some of them include:
- Those employees that perform better in an office environment may find it difficult adjusting to others schedules as well as trying to keep open lines of communication between colleagues. This often leads to employers using a core days schedule where on certain days every employee has to be in for meetings etc.
- Anyone who has worked from home will relate to the multitude of distractions to hand, as well as people who will constantly ask for help or attention as a result of the assumption that because you are at home you are not working.
- Also, because of the unclear line between work and home, you may receive work calls and emails when you least expect it. Google founder Larry Page was known for sometimes emailing people at 2am.
- You do get the occasional slacker that takes advantage of the system and sits at home watching Netflix instead of working.
- It can be a culture shock for some employers and managers if they are used to seeing people working and feel more reassured than when they cannot see employees working. This often leads to that pesky assumption that work-at-home employees are slackers because employers can’t physically see their productivity. Those with a tendency to micro-manage will struggle with these types of arrangements.
- It requires a lot of organisation, depending on the industry. Assembly line workers or manual labourers can’t work remotely so organising rotas, compressing hours and meeting the needs of all your employees can take a lot of time and organisation. Those who work in customer service will find that their clientele want to be able to reach you at a minimum 5 days a week during office hours, so organising rotas and cover that way can prove a challenge. Setting up systems that allow people to work from home (such as remote login services) can take some extra investment and time to set up.
This summary of the major advantages and disadvantages of flexible working may seem to go nowhere, but there is a point to all this. It is a legal right, as an employee, to request flexible working and we feel that attitudes need to change. It is not a show of lack of your employee’s commitment, but a show of their commitment and the fact they want to work for you but they need also certain arrangements to improve their quality of life. Flexible working not only allows you to retain your top employees but also enables you to hire great employees regardless of distance. In some cases, remote working can deliver their quality work to you, without the need for expensive relocation and stress. Remember the 9-5 isn’t always realistic.