Here is the introduction to HR expert Gemma Dale's guide to flexible working for employers. You can download the full guide here:
All employees may make a request for flexible working, for any reason they wish. It’s a right to ask for a different working pattern, but not a right to have that request agreed.
There is an increasing demand for more flexible forms of working, whether that is to undertake caring responsibilities, improve wellbeing or work-life balance, reduce commuting, pursue hobbies and study, or in advance of retirement. Many people simply don’t want to work in a rigid Monday-Friday, 9-5 type pattern – and employers cannot afford to ignore the demand for change.
Flexible working does present challenges for organisations – both practically and in terms of culture. Instead of judging people by the hours that they work or how long they are in the office, it requires that people are judged for their contribution – what they deliver.
Types of flexible working
There are many forms of flexible working. It can include any working pattern outside of the norm for the particular organisation. This could be working part-time, but also includes job sharing, annualised hours, compressed hours (working full time hours over four days rather than five), term time only working, home working (part or full time), flexi-time, or variable hours.
At certain times of the year, flexible working requests often come from parents whose children are going to school for the first time, or whose childcare routines are changing. Handling a request well could be the difference between retaining a valued employee and losing them to a more flexible organisation.
The benefits of flexible working
There are many good reasons for organisations to support flexible working; it can attract and retain talent, improves employee engagement, can support inclusion and help to reduce the gender pay gap. It’s good for the environment and helps employees achieve a positive work life balance.
Flexible working tips for employers
Flexible working is just one way that organisations can support, engage and retain working parents and carers – as well as everyone else! Here are a few tips to make flexible working a success:
Check your policy
You don’t have to stick to the statutory framework – you can improve your policy by being more flexible about when and how often you accept requests. Having robust HR policies that work for your organisation is essential to smooth employee relations. You can also easily store your flexible working policy within an online document management system to make it easier for managers and employees alike to access that policy and understand your approach to flexible working.
Train your managers
Managers should understand how to manage requests – but also how they might need to adapt their management style to manage flexible workers too. They need to have an awareness of the potential benefits to them, the employee and the organisation as a whole. Providing managers with training (and keeping track of it in your training management system to make sure everyone is suitably prepared) will help the organisation develop a better response process to flexible working requests.
Make use of trial periods
Often it isn’t clear how a flexible arrangement will work in practice, so encourage managers to try out options before they say no. Ensure your policy includes trial periods and that managers are aware of this useful tool.
4-day work week
Another thing that often gets mentioned in relation to flexible working is the 4-day work week. This is a hot topic at the minute and has been implemented by 100 UK companies following the initial trial run by 4 Day Week Global. The 4-day work week is when a company swaps out the traditional Monday-Friday schedule with a 4-day model, where one of the usual working days becomes a day off.
Read about the findings of this trial, as well as the positives and negatives of the 4-day work week, here.
If you are prepared to be flexible, say so in your recruitment adverts
Only around 11% of jobs are advertised as being suitable for flexible working – but many more people desire it. Opening up flexible working at the point of recruitment and advertising your jobs as suitable for flexible working can be a great way to attract talent to your organisation.
Related article: How to recruit talented employees who are trained and motivated
Explore your options
There are many forms of flexible working that can be undertaken successfully. There’s more to flexible working than working part-time! Your policy can detail the many different types of flexible working, but also make it clear that employees can ask for other patterns too.
More and more people are undertaking some of their working week from home. It’s good practice to have guidance around working from home so that employees are clear what is required of them, for example working hours, being contactable and what happens if they are unwell.
Share case studies of successful flexible working
Many employees might not even realise that they can ask for flexible working – or what sort of flexible working is available. If you have employees who are working flexibly, then ask for their permission to share their stories with others.
Promote the positive aspects of flexible working internally by appointing flexible working champions who can share information on making requests, benefits and successful implementation.
Want more tips from a senior HR professional on how to manage flexible working within your business? Download our full employer's guide to flexible working.
Written by Gemma Dale
Gemma Dale is an experienced senior HR professional, CIPD Chartered Fellow, HEA Fellow, and a regular speaker and writer on a variety of HR topics. Gemma is the co-author of the book 'Flexible Working' published by Kogan Page in 2020. She is also a lecturer in the Business School at Liverpool John Moores University and runs her own business, The Work Consultancy.