A recent poll from the TUC highlights that 30 percent of flexible working requests are being turned down by employers. Despite changing attitudes, there is still hesitation from some employers around implementing flexible working, fuelled by fears around employees taking advantage of the schemes. These statistics only go to show just how much more education around flexible working is needed if the UK is to create workplaces which work for everyone.
Ways of working have changed dramatically over recent years and leaps in technology mean that being bound to a desk in a set location, for a set time period, is no longer a necessity. When executed in the right way, flexible working has the potential to rejuvenate a workforce and boost productivity, however, education around the topic is needed and the UK is not quite there yet.
Amongst some organisations, it seems the idiom ‘if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile’, stands firm, making it difficult for applications to be reviewed objectively. There must be an obligation for employers to properly consider employee requests, as they differ on a case-by-case basis. For a flexible working approach to be successful in the longer term, both employer and employee must work together to agree a mutually-beneficial arrangement, one which gives thought to the wider business.
In some cases, it is the employees who are applying for flexible working requests with the wrong attitude and thought needs to be given to how their proposal will benefit the business. For example, an employee may be more productive earlier in the morning, or alternatively, always have deadlines to meet later in the day; a flexible working arrangement would certainly help to improve the work-life balance for the individual and would therefore increase productivity. Any flexitime request should ideally be backed up by solid reasoning as to why particularly hours have been asked for.
Even though the simple right to request flexible working is a statutory one, many employers have arrangements that offer more than the legal minimum. Whilst this is largely positive, employees must be aware that more generous flexible working schemes often allow employers to turn down flexitime requests, in some situations.
Flexible working has the potential to be extremely productive as well as disruptive, depending on the nature of the workplace. Ultimately, situation must work for both employee and employer. The subject is therefore becoming a common question raised in interviews and more employers are shouting about being open to flexitime and modern working practices. This is a wise move, better for candidates to be informed about flexible working at an early stage than turn down a job in the belief that these benefits weren’t offered.
As flexible working moves up the corporate agenda, most – if not all – employers should be expecting some form of discussion around flexible working from their employees. Therefore, training is important to ensure that employers have the necessary tools to start a dialogue around how a package can be tweaked to suit a prospective employee.
Ultimately, flexible working is a two-way street and the need for adaptability must be balanced with the needs of the business. For employers, encouraging open and honest discussions around flexible working is key to nurturing a happy workforce, keen to agree to an arrangement which benefits everyone.
Phil Pepper, partner and head of employment team at law firm, Shakespeare Martineau.