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Rachel Whitford: What the new flexible working bill could mean for you

The new flexible working bill intends to make all jobs flexible by default. Rachel Whitford, Area Manager for Express Vending explains what this could mean for your business 

The future is flexible, at least it will be if the new flexible working bill,  introduced to Parliament in July, is signed off. The standard working day has typically been 9 to 5 in an office environment, inherent in current legislation which offers the right to request flexible working as an alternative. 

The new bill would change the working landscape as we know it, requiring employers to offer flexible working options in employment contracts by default, unless there is a sound business case for why the role could not be carried out flexibly. What could this new bill mean for employers?

What is flexible working?
Almost every business can incorporate flexibility, due to the variety of ways flexible working can be put into practice. This includes, but is not limited to:

• Part-time work

• Job sharing

• Swift-swapping

• Compressed hours

• Flexitime     

• Annualised hours

• Staggered hours                 

• Phased retirement 

• Career breaks

It is, therefore, good practice for organisations to develop a policy on flexible working, to clarify the options you decide to offer. This begins with a consultation between employees and managers to understand the demand for flexible working as well as potential challenges and barriers. Those in leadership roles should then formulate a business case to present to senior management, demonstrating the benefits of flexible working and a course of action. Obtaining buy-in from management is vital to ensure the success of your flexible working policy.

Employee benefits, business benefits
The benefits as a result of offering flexibility are well-documented, which will help make the business case to introduce flexible working in your workplace easier.

There is growing evidence that when employees are happy, businesses thrive. One study found that happy employees are up to 20 per cent more productive  than unhappy employees. 

Happier, and therefore more productive employees can lead to a rise in stock prices , and even increase sales  and turnover  for product-based companies. 

Unhappy employees, suffering from work-related stress, depression and anxiety led to 15.4 million lost working days  in 2017/18. One way to support employees and reduce workplace stress is to provide flexible working options.

Flexible working helps employees prioritise their work-life balance, leading to happier, less stressed and ‘much more productive’ employees according to a recent survey conducted by AAT .

A key demographic who will benefit from flexible working arrangements is parents. Research shows 42.1 per cent of single fathers and 19.7 per cent of single mothers are ‘economically inactive’ due to sickness or disability. Providing flexible options means parents can make up the hours spent taking their child to the doctors, for example, rather than taking the time off as annual leave or missing an entire working day.

The bottom line
Naturally, business leaders will want to see a return on investment in flexible working, and there are a variety of ways in which offering flexibility can be advantageous.

 The main economic advantage of offering flexibility is staff retention. In a study by AAT, it was revealed flexible workers felt reluctant to leave their current job  if a new one didn’t offer the same flexibility. Replacing an employee costs the employer £30,000 on average , so it goes without saying high employee turnover rates are bad for business.

Overhead costs can drop when you employ remote workers, with the potential to save on office space and the cost of desks, chairs, computers and other equipment.

Advertising flexible working options during the recruitment process can also enhance your company image, helping attract the strongest talent. According to the CIPD, flexible working has not increased in the last 10 years , so offering flexible solutions can make your company stand out from the crowd.

Putting flexible working into practice 
Offering flexible working has advantages, but it can be challenging to introduce new working arrangements. The first step is to discuss current barriers and the changes your business would have to make to create flexible opportunities.

If there is resistance from line managers, obtaining buy-in from senior management can demonstrate that flexible working will be taken seriously. Providing training and support for line managers is crucial, as these individuals will be responsible for making flexible working arrangements day-to-day.

Work scheduling, specific to your industry and workplace, may be difficult when offering flexible working options. In team-orientated departments, teams still need to meet, which requires a delicate balance and clear guidelines surrounding flexibility.

Employers will find that there is scope for flexibility in most roles, but should assess on a case-by-case basis on factors which include:

• Time: is the role full-time or part-time?

• Location: where do the work activities take place?

• When: what activities must be done when?

There may be further dependencies related to the role to consider. For example, a supervisory job may require job sharing or another solution for someone else to deputise while management is out of office. If the role requires handling sensitive data, there may be GDPR and confidentiality issues to overcome.

These considerations will be specific to your workplace, but the diverse ways in which flexible working can be achieved means there is a solution for every potential barrier. 

About Sarah OBeirne

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