Flexible Working: A Proactive Perspective

Many organisations are still getting to grips with the law on flexible working. Impact Human Resources Limited provide an overview of those changes, why flexible working is good for business and provide practical tips to help organisations successfully create a flexible working culture.

Recent changes to legislation
On 30 June 2014 the right to request flexible working was extended to all employees. The statutory procedure for considering flexible working requests has also been abolished and has been replaced with a requirement to consider all requests in a reasonable manner, in line with the new ACAS Code of Practice.

The business case
Although the law on flexible working has been extended to all employees, the employer has no obligation to agree. The business case needs to be considered.

Ample and compelling evidence from organisations that have already widely adopted flexible working practices, demonstrates that, flexible working has dual benefits. For employees, flexible working allows them to better balance their home and work life. This in turn leads to tangible business outcomes for employers:

-  Lower absenteeism and reduced staff turnover - leading to a reduction in costs on recruitment, induction and training.

-  Higher productivity.

-  Widened talent pool - increasing the ability to recruit and retain people with higher than average skills.

-  Increased levels of job satisfaction and employee engagement - resulting in greater loyalty and commitment to the organisation.

Despite this evidence flexible working appears not to have been widely adopted by all employers.This is predominantly due to:
-  Cultural perceptions of flexible working being seen as a 'benefit to employees and a cost to  employers', a management chore, shirking and less commitment to the job.

-  Issues linked to trust and concerns around managing flexible workers.

-  Being ingrained in a cultural tendancy to design jobs using the traditional model of 9-5 working.

-  Some employers being unaware of the the evidence that reveals the business benefits of flexible working.

-  Some employers although aware of the evidence cannot see how flexible working could work in their organisation or are dissuaded by the more practical issues, in particular by the smaller organisations.

A change in mindsets
With evidence showing that flexibility in the workplace is good for business, the recent changes to legislation on flexible working is a step in the right direction.  For organisations to successfully adopt flexible working, there is a need to achieve cultural change in terms of shifting current attitudes so that there is recognition of the two-way benefits in developing modern flexible working practices and taking a proactive approach to address some of the potential challenges anticipated. Taking a purely reactionary approach by way of reacting to requests is most unlikely to achieve such change.

Practical recommendations for managing flexible working successfully
The recommendations outlined here are our practical tips for introducing and managing flexible working successfully in a proactive way.

Embed a flexible working culture:
Take advantage of the new legislation to decide how you want to integrate flexible working into the wider culture of your organisation so that flexible working is seen as the acceptable norm by all.

Create and implement policies:
Go beyond updating HR policies to reflect the legal changes. Develop flexible working policies in consultation with the workforce to ensure their needs are addressed. Focus on the two-way benefits. Think about how you may deal with any tricky practical issues arising. Be sure to implement fairly and consistently. Review and update regularly to reflect changing demands.

Take a tailored approach:
Think innovatively outside of the traditional default model of 9-5 working (i.e. a one size fits all approach) and consider the full range of flexible working options that can support both the needs of your business and your workforce.

Incorporate flexible working options into job design:
As part of job design define job roles based on their outputs and deliverables rather than inputs. This will help you to assess, design and implement jobs more appropriately for flexible working.

Raise awareness:
Promote flexible working amongst employees by helping employees to understand the options available and the positive implications attached. This will help employees to consider how and why flexible working might be right for them, help manage any inhibitions and encourage take-up.

Measure impact: 
Create an evaluation plan to continually measure the success of the flexible working practices implemented. This will help you to assess effectiveness and check what improvements can be made.

Learn from the best organisations:
Identify organisations similar in sector, size and job type for whom flexible working is seen as an integral part of the business to see what learnings and practices you can successfully adopt.

Work with the experts:
Engage with organisational specialists such as business psychologists and HR practitioners to ensure you are implementing the best solutions for your organisation.