Is flexible working a win win? | A contribution from Helen Crossland, Seddons Solicitors

Becky Hughes our consultant managing the role

A contribution from Helen Crossland, Seddons Solicitors

If we are to believe the statistics, flexible working is the winning ticket. For employees, it is often now a key consideration in any job move that agile working will be part of the package. It may also be a factor in why they are seeking a new role in the first place. Most businesses too are keen to fly the flag of flexible working, recognising the allure it has for potential new recruits and the positive, forward-thinking message it can send out about their business. While it may be secondary to the impact it can have to a businesses’ bottom line, if office space can be forfeited or used more resourcefully, flexible working at face value seems a wholly positive initiative.

Flexible working brings other advantages - it is a widely acknowledged tool in promoting employee wellbeing. Employees who have more latitude and control over when and where they work are proven to have less sickness absence. Mental health issues in the workplace are also reduced. Operated properly, it can increase productivity levels and garner such satisfaction in employees so that they won’t leave. Put simply, businesses risk losing good people if they shun modern working practices. Particularly if the competition is busy investing in technology and smarter, leaner working methods which enable staff to work remotely and as efficiently as they do when they are at the office.

The benefits that come from enabling employees to perform their duties from home, a hot desk or co-working space, some or all of the time, are undisputable. The reality however, is that agile working raises a number of practical challenges. Its work ability is governed largely by having the right infrastructure and IT support in place. Confidentiality and GDPR are also high-risk factors and have the potential to become a PR (and other) nightmare if laptops and paperwork are left unattended or on public display. Some businesses, because of what they do, simply cannot be as versatile as others. Moreover, certain roles do not lend themselves to being performed remotely owing to their managerial or supervisory nature, or the fact that the incumbent needs to be visible and on site.

Problems can also arise where organisations offer flexible working too widely or without due consideration of business needs. It is not uncommon for organisations to have to row back on agreed working patterns when realising they are faced with a personnel or management vacuum on certain days. As for hot desking, there is strong evidence this is the least popular style of working and can be a significant source of stress and disaffection where individuals regularly have to engage in mid-week battles over computers and seating.

Practicalities aside, trust and cultural issues still remain the foremost barriers to effective remote working. To help overcome these, a holistic approach needs to be taken on flexible working. This can be assisted by having effective policies in place which set out agreed parameters and which make it known that there must be equal flexibility on the part of the employee. Agile working may be something that an organisation offers to all employees as standard. In most cases it will be considered on a case by case basis however, as part of a formal flexible working request.

Any employee with 26 weeks’ continuous service or more is eligible to apply to work flexibly. Applications can range from a desire to work fewer hours or days, compressed hours, varying start or leave times, or to work from home some or all of the time. Employers are obliged to give all requests ‘meaningful consideration’ and process applications, including any appeal, within 3 months of receipt. Unless a request can be readily granted, a formal meeting is recommended to discuss the application; the options then being to accept or refuse the request, or to agree a compromise including potentially granting a trial period. Any rejections must be based on one or more of the eight prescribed business reasons.

Employers may understandably believe that when an application is granted, it will equal contentment in the recipient; appreciative of the ability to continue performing their role of choice while being better able to manage their other responsibilities and commitments. Not so according to the research which shows that 65% of employees who work flexibly or part-time report feeling less connected to their team, with 45% feeling their input is deemed less valuable because of their reduced working time/visibility. This is attributed to a host of factors including missing out on training and development initiatives, key/group meetings being scheduled at times they are not present, and marketing and social events taking place at prohibitive times.

A conclusion to be drawn from the research is that employers should think twice about accepting requests if they are doing so reluctantly, or if they cannot ensure the employee’s working arrangements could be properly accounted for. If the business is unable or unwilling to be adaptable to those who work flexibly, it may be better to decline an application than risk opening up a whole new range of issues caused by an employee feeling devalued or side-lined. For a flexible working arrangement to succeed, it must be carefully managed with consideration given to the timetabling of meetings and events, the use of IT/ communications and ensuring that learning and development opportunities still include the employee as far as possible. Such measures can guard against employees being unwittingly or as the case may be, deliberately marginalised.

For flexible working to be successful, there must be a two-way street and compromise on the part of the employee. Businesses are not expected to work around any one employee and if they do, run the risk of inciting resentment in others. There also needs to be recognition that an employee’s chosen work arrangements will inevitably cause them to miss certain opportunities and information, and that the employee needs to be equally responsible in minimising such gaps.

The 10th edition of our highly regarded Market Insight Report represents the views of over 1,100 professionals, and contains insights from our specialist consultants and key business partners on market and employment trends. 

If you’re looking to find out more on salary benchmarking and the motivations driving the modern workforce today, download our full report which contains key contributions from  Western Union Business SolutionsWomen in Fund Finance, Intoo UK & Ireland and Breaking the Silence.

16/09/19
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