In 2003 the UK Government introduced flexible working hours for parents and carers, which has since evolved to the current state where any employee can make a request for flexible working hours as long as they have been employed by the company for a minimum of 26 weeks.
Flexible working hours can be requested for: Job sharing (Two people do one job and split the hours); Working from home (It might be possible to do some or all of the work from home or anywhere else other than the normal place of wor)k; Part time (Working less than full-time hours); Compressed hours (Working full-time hours but over fewer days); Flexitime (The employee chooses when to start and end work—within agreed limits—but works certain ‘core hours’, for example 10am to 4pm every day; Annualised hours (The employee has to work a certain number of hours over the year but they have some flexibility about when they work. There are sometimes ‘core hours’ which the employee regularly works each week, and they work the rest of their hours flexibly or when there’s extra demand at work); Staggered hours (The employee has different start, finish and break times from other workers); Phased retirement (Default retirement age has been phased out and older workers can choose when they want to retire. This means they can reduce their hours and work part time).
Any request must be reviewed, considered and discussed with the employee and reasons for granting or refusing must explained thoroughly. Remember the employee has the right to appeal and ultimately has the right to go to a tribunal.
Many new or enlightened businesses have already embraced this legislation and in many cases are proactive in offering flexible hours to their employees, but if you aren’t one of them then you need to read on.
If you haven’t embraced flexible hours because you are unaware of the requirement, don’t understand it or don’t want to do it then you are on a very slippery slope as COVID-19 has made a lot more people realise that they have these rights. As companies bend over backwards to keep their businesses running by making all sorts of changes to the working week, people are becoming more enlightened about what their working life could be like.
A highly-motivational perk
So as an employer, let’s look at the advantages for your business as the best way to manage these requests is to do everything that you can to accommodate them. The old saying, “Look after your customers before someone else does” now applies to your employees.
Flexible working hours are going to be seen as a highly-valued perk that may see you lose employees or have your job offers rejected by potential employees who want to work for a more modern-thinking company.
For manufacturers like myself, a request for flexible working can seen to be unreasonable as it may make you inefficient due to lost hours but this doesn’t have to be the case. It’s amazing what solutions you can come up with if you all sit around the table and discuss it with a positive attitude.
I had a request from a person wanting to reduce their week to three days as they were approaching the age they wanted to retire at. At first I saw it as a problem but I agreed anyway and surprisingly it made little difference as it gave our apprentice the motivation to up his game and fill the gap. So, we had a happy employee, a more motivated apprentice, no loss of production and a reduction in our wage bill—what’s not to like!
In the case of, say, a father of young children who wants to come in an hour later and leave an hour later, the company loses nothing and generates goodwill with the employee as it helps him and creates a better life balance for him. Imagine how the business will look in the eyes of his wife and kids when he goes home that night and tells them that his employer has agreed with his request, no problem.
I have had an employee ask if he could work compressed hours for a couple of weeks so that he could take two days off in return as he needed a couple of days off but had used all his holiday. First thing that I had to do was to make sure that we didn’t create a lone working situation so I asked who else would be prepared to work with him during those two weeks and surprisingly two people agreed. Again another win/win situation—the company never lost productivity and a happy employee was able to go home and tell his family that he would be able to spend those two extra days with them.
As you can see from those three examples it’s always possible to come up with a solution that helps your team and won’t affect productivity. Admittedly working from home is rarely possible if you are hands-on in a manufacturing business, but most people are smart enough to realise that and not even suggest it in the first place.
I once worked for a business that was always trying to think of new ways to incentivise their employees by various monetised schemes, but at the end of the day letting people leave early or come in late as a reward for good work was by far the most motivational reward. It had negligible loss of productivity, saved money on gift vouchers and other rewards and very noticeably improved morale and the will to go the extra mile.
People will have questioned their lifestyle during the recent lock down and may be looking for ways of creating a better work/life balance, so get ready to embrace their requests for flexible working.
- Listen to this episode of the Evolve to Succeed podcast, where the issue of flexible hours and remote working post Covid-19 is discussed among a panel of business leaders.