HR & Employment Law Insights

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The traditional 9-5pm working day has long since been redundant but the move towards flexible working patterns is quickly gathering momentum.

With effect from 30th June 2014, all employees with more than 26 weeks continuous service were given new rights to request flexible working patterns.

Employers are obliged to give the request reasonable consideration but are not legally obliged to grant every request. We take a look at the different forms of flexible working patterns, how they could benefit an employer and how this changes the role of HR.

What is flexible working?

The ability to request flexible working patterns can potentially cover a wide range of different scenarios, changing the workplace and how staff are managed.

Some of the possible changes which could be requested under flexible working include the following:

  • compressed hours – working the same amount of hours over fewer days
  • working from home part of the time
  • doing a job share
  • flexi-time – changing the start and finish times that are worked
  • career breaks
  • annual hours contract – employees choose how they will work their hours
  • term-time working
  • part-time hours

Although all employees with more than 25 weeks continuous service now have the right to request flexible working patters, their employer does not have to agree. The only responsibility is to act reasonably and give the matter genuine consideration where possible.

However, although a formal agreement can be put in place under the new statute, many employers choose to have an informal agreement in place and have done for some time, even though they weren't legally obliged to offer it.

The benefits to employers

The advantages to staff are clear but it's not just employees who can benefit from flexible working patterns being in place.

When it comes to recruiting and retaining staff, flexible working patterns are a proven winner. Allowing a degree of flexibility for employees provides a real edge over competitors and can attract the top calibre of candidates to your business.

For existing staff, studies have repeatedly shown that when an employer grants flexible working patterns, there is a much greater feeling of loyalty and commitment. This is often referred to as the psychological contract.

In some cases allowing flexible working patterns may mean reduced cost for employers because equipment may be shared more effectively, or you may have lower overhead costs if an individual works remotely for part of the time. You could also agree on the flexible working patterns to better match the peak flows for your business, ensuring that you have more staff when you need it thus allowing you to provide a superior service.

The impact for HR

Whilst there are undeniable benefits for both staff and employers, there is a range of considerations which need to be taken into account in all negotiations, plus ongoing concerns too.

HR needs to be ready to adapt for flexible working if it is agreed

In the first instance, HR need to play a role in raising awareness amongst staff of their right to request flexible working patterns and the benefits that it could bring.

However, HR may also need to work actively with line managers, particularly if they view flexible working patterns negatively. If there are no valid barriers to allowing flexible working, HR may need to help educate senior members of staff on the benefits for the business and how it could improve performance.

If a request is made, HR will be responsible for ensuring the whole process complies with legislation not just on flexible working, but also equality and discrimination. One of the biggest challenges that may be faced is conflicting requests or accusations of bias.

It's, therefore, vital that HR ensure the requests are deals with fairly and consistently, and that there is a good basis for each decision reached.

If flexible working is agreed, line managers may require some support in learning how to supervise their staff in a different way. The performance of line managers with flexible teams will also need to be monitored to ensure staff are being treated fairly.

It's critical that anyone who opts for flexible working patterns should not miss out on training, development opportunities or other rewards as a result. This will require education and careful management by HR to ensure all staff continue to be treated fairly.

Conclusion

Flexible working patterns are set to continue to revitalise the workplace in the UK, with employees able to stay in work for longer as they fit it around their personal commitments. But this will require flexibility and change from the management team, and help to support and educate the business is likely to be a key role for all HR staff. For more information or help contact us at:

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