It’s been around for a while but has gained more attention recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic: flexible working.
Flexible working is, simply put, the ability to work flexibly. This could be in relation to where you work, what hours you work, or how many days a week you work, for example.
The demand for flexible working has only increased since the pandemic. A recent CIPD report suggested that among employees who have no access to flexible working, about 80% would like it.
And, in some cases, employers are already meeting that demand. Post-pandemic, 63% of organisations in a CIPD and Simply Health survey said they have a more flexible approach to making workplace adjustments. And 83% said they are supplying more support tailored to individuals’ needs and concerns (such as flexible working).
The government, too, seems very keen on flexible working. They are proposing to give all employees the right to request flexible working straight away when they start new jobs, with a consultation currently taking place. Currently, employees must wait for six months before they have the right to request flexible working.
The proposals would also see bosses have to respond to requests for flexible working more quickly than the current maximum of three months, and force firms to explain why any requests were refused.
So, is this the future of the workplace? Well, we’re not going to make any statements about that. However, businesses should certainly be looking into the many ways flexible working could be used to make their workplace a more productive, satisfied, and inclusive place.
To help, our HR & Employment Law experts have covered some of the key benefits of flexible working for businesses and individuals below. Whether having a flexible working policy in place will benefit your organisation is for you to say. However, the below points should be considered when reaching that decision.
The benefits of flexible working
Disability and long-term health conditions
Flexible working allows employees to manage disability and long-term health conditions. From those with mobility issues being able to work from home to those with conditions that affect their energy levels, being able to be flexible with their hours can help support the careers of those with additional needs.
However, be aware that as an employer you are under a separate duty to supply reasonable adjustments for your disabled employees. So, if you receive flexible working requests from disabled employees, you need to be aware that you are already obliged as an employer to facilitate suitable adjustments for them. You could leave yourself exposed to constructive dismissal claims if you don’t tread carefully.
Pregnant women, parents, and carers
Flexible working can make working life a lot easier for those with caring responsibilities – namely pregnant mothers, parents, and carers.
The benefits for expecting or new mothers are well-known. Flexible working can help them to keep working for longer and get back to work more quickly – or potentially never stop working at all. Organisations such as Working Forward aim to raise awareness of the benefits of flexible working for pregnant women and new mothers, encouraging employers to be open and transparent about their flexible working options and to promote these during recruitment.
Their research found that over two-thirds of mothers (68%) made a request for at least one type of flexible working practice, with most being approved.
However, over a third of the women who had their requests approved didn’t request the flexibility they wanted because they thought it would be viewed negatively or wouldn’t be approved, while over half said it led to negative consequences.
Making sure those who have their flexible working requests approved are treated fairly and aren’t overlooked for any growth opportunities is important. Doing so will help you avoid costly employment tribunals later down the line rising from constructive dismissal or discrimination claims.
The ability to work from home through flexible working can also help these groups. With the growth in homeworking during and after the pandemic, it’s positive that nearly three-quarters of organisations are providing new or improved support for people working from home – although less than half are providing new or better support for employees with caring responsibilities, according to a recent survey.
Having a flexible working policy in place can help carers feel that they are able to access support in the form of flexibility around their hours and work days, allowing them to better balance their work and caring responsibilities.
The benefits of flexible working
According to the CIPD, flexible working can have both direct and indirect business benefits. Direct business benefits include savings on office space, a better match between business resources and demand – for example, serving customers on a 24/7 basis – and a more efficient use of technology.
Indirect business benefits can come through improved employee job satisfaction and wellbeing. Research shows that flexible workers have a higher level of job satisfaction and commitment and are likely to put in more effort than those who do not work flexibly.
There are 3.5 million women over 50 in the workplace in the UK, and the average age a woman starts her menopause is 51. For every ten women experiencing menopausal symptoms, six say it has a negative impact on their work, with 49% of the menopausal workforce considering taking early retirement.
To help keep their menopausal employees in the workplace, employers could introduce a flexible working policy and look to try and approve where possible the flexible working requests of this group. Small changes to their working lives could make a big difference in helping them to manage their symptoms and continue with their career.
Over the last few years, the CIPD and Simply Health have found that mental health is the most common focus of wellbeing activity. This year, substantially more organisations are focusing on this area to a large extent (57%, up from 41% in 2020).
Research has shown that flexible working can reduce absence rates and as well as supporting mental health and stress. Allowing your people to find a working structure and pattern that suits them and helps them to feel in control of their responsibilities can help to boost productivity and reduce presenteeism and absenteeism.
How Citation can help
From creating a comprehensive flexible working policy for your organisation to advising on best-practice for dealing with flexible working requests, our HR & Employment Law experts are here to help. We can act as an extension of your existing HR department guiding them on the best way forwards, or in lieu of one if you don’t currently have one.
Simply call 0345 844 1111 to get started.
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