In 2014 the Flexible Working Regulations were extended to give all employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service the right to request flexible working. However, research shows that 87% of employees would prefer to work more flexibly, yet only 10% of employees actually work on flexible terms. Furthermore, only 1 in 10 vacancies are advertised as flexible.
The benefits of flexible working on performance, productivity, diversity, engagement and employee empowerment are phenomenal and it is surprising that most organisation’s still take a reactive, rather than proactive approach to flexible working.
So how can your business use flexible working to boost your competitive advantage?
1. Embrace the inevitable
The current Coronavirus pandemic has caused thousands of workers across the UK to adapt their methods of working by working from home. Not only has this proven to both employers and employees that it is possible, it will undoubtedly demonstrate to some employees a more appealing way to work. Long commutes, rushing from work to fetch the children from school and being constantly pulled from pillar to post by colleagues asking for help has been a thing of the past for many over the last 3 months and it is expected that some would prefer it to remain that way.
A survey conducted by O2, ICM and YouGov found that 45% of workers expected to work more flexibly after lockdown. With a legal responsibility not to deny a reasonable flexible working request, it is logical for organizations to pre-empt this surge in requests and use it to their advantage by offering it as a perk/benefit. The difficult economic climate in which businesses will return will require maximum efficiency more than ever and flexible working will be a great tool to engage, retain and even attract high performers through the promise of a better work-life balance that they have been teased with over the past 10 weeks.
2. Futureproof your business
With the rise of technology and new generations entering the labour market, there has been an increase in online practices and remote working. The lockdown has proven to many the need to reform current practices as social distancing is set to stay for the foreseeable future. Everyone by now has heard the phrase a ‘new normal’ and businesses must accept this too if they wish to remain competitive. Rather than strategically planning how they can return to normal, businesses should be planning how to achieve their new normal and how they can adapt current practice to be more robust and sustainable. With face to face meetings being traded in for zoom calls, there is no reason why an employee can’t take a call or join a meeting from home. For small businesses such changes could even eliminate the need for premises with virtual offices replacing physical ones. This could produce huge cost savings to invest in more profitable business ventures.
3. Remain legally compliant
Finally, the legalities of flexible working must be considered. Employers are legally obliged to ‘reasonably’ consider all flexible working requests and can only decline a request it is fits 8 prescribed criteria as set out in the Flexible Working Regulations. Denying a flexible working request may put the employer at risk of discrimination, perhaps on grounds of sex discrimination if a female employee is unreasonably refused part time hours but this was requested due to childcare commitments. It may also put the employer at risk of constructive dismissal claims if a flexible working request is unreasonably rejected, giving the employee no option but to resign. If the anticipated rise in flexible working requests in the post Covid-19 labour market does materialise, employers will need to be very cautious in handling them in a reasonable way as not to risk legal action by employees. Such risks will likely force the hand of the employer in accepting many requests so by ‘embracing the inevitable’ and pre-empting this rise, employers can set themselves apart from their competitors to appear more flexible, innovative and forward thinking in their approach to workforce practices whilst reducing risk.
To summarise, Flexible Working is approached by most employers reactively, rather than proactively. In doing so, employers are missing an opportunity to better engage, motivate, empower and attract high performing talent. With a cultural transition towards more flexible working practices anticipated, employers should take this opportunity to embrace flexible working and promote it as a perk/ benefit whilst they can and before it forms part of the ‘new normal’ for employment practices.
For support and guidance on introducing flexible working practices into your business, please get in touch via the contact us page so that we can discuss how we can support your business to do this.