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Financial sector faces potential adjustments for flexible working

04/07/14

Firms in the UK financial sector will need to consider carefully how they accommodate new flexible working rules.

The UK financial sector may have to adapt to accommodate flexible working, as new rules come into force allowing all employees to request this.

Until now, only carers and those working with children could request flexible hours, but the new laws extend this right to 20 million more people, which will include those in the financial sector.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg commented: "Modern businesses know that flexible working boosts productivity and staff morale, and helps them keep their top talent so that they can grow. It’s about time we brought working practices bang up to date with the needs, and choices, of our modern families."

Many firms in the financial sector will concur and some already have family-friendly policies, designed to ensure they can enjoy the benefits of staff retention, good morale and the loyalty of those they treat well in terms of accommodating their work-life balance. Indeed, many firms in the sector will agree with the government's own research showing that while the annual costs of allowing flexible working are £39.8 million, the benefits are £55.8 million. Among these are lower absence levels, higher morale and greater productivity.

That noted, companies are not automatically obliged to grant flexible working requests. However, they will have to justify any refusal on operational grounds. These provisions include the extra cost burdens involved, the difficulties involved in re-allocating work, difficulty in bringing in other staff, a fall in company quality or performance, structural changes to a firm or a lack of available hours for the time the employee wants to work.

In the case of the financial sector, these considerations are likely to be of varying relevance depending on the kind of firm or its department. For example, if the role involves trading in the City it means working those hours, just as it would in a bank branch in a public-facing role during normal working hours. 

However, there may be numerous other cases where this is not so. For example, in a call centre or as a staff member in an internet banking operation, flexibility is much more viable - and important. In these instances, the operations carry on way beyond normal working hours and are carried out by a large number of people. The operational need is to meet the requirements of whatever volume of customers are seeking services at any given time. For this reason there will be peak times and also those where very few people will call - such as the middle of the night. 

If the scale is large a company should be well able to accommodate flexible working and may find it is in fact very handy, not least if it means more people willing to work unsociable hours - a provision that might normally require higher pay rewards to encourage staff to do so. 

Indeed, this may be supplemented by other forms of flexibility in large-scale operations, such as shift swaps, which may help two people to co-ordinate events from children's activities to fans of different football teams covering each other on Saturdays when they play at home.

For these reasons, many firms already offer flexible working and more may now do so.

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