Flexible-working: a route to improving employee fulfilment and tackling the growing skills shortage
The pandemic resulted in an unprecedented increase in agile working practices, largely as a crisis response. Now, with mounting pressure from employees to embed flexible working practices into the cultural fabric of the workplace, mounting evidence that flexible working can alleviate stress while improving mental health and wellbeing, and government initiatives aimed at making flexible working requests easier to make, now is the time for employers to embrace flexible working and the positive business benefits from promoting flexible working initiatives.
For all that’s been written about the business benefits of flexible working, and its importance to staff retention and wellbeing, it is alarming to see the results of a recent survey conducted by the TUC and campaign group Mother Pukka, that 50% of working mothers have experienced their employer rejecting or only partially accepting their flexible working request. With statistics like these, it’s perhaps little wonder that on 23rd September 2021, the UK government published an open consultation, “Making flexible working the default” to consider five ways in which the current legal framework for making flexible working requests could change and improve. While the consultation will close on 1 December 2021, it seems clear that one of the outcomes of the consultation is likely to be that the statutory right to request flexible working will be made a ‘day one right’, essentially placing flexible working on the agenda with other key terms of employment right from the outset in the recruitment process, rather than after the employee has attained 6 months’ service. Sounds good, but, it is still likely to be a statutory right to request only. It is not proposed that the right will be extended to becoming an automatic right to have (or demand) a flexible or part-time working pattern, and there will still be considerable leeway afforded to employers to say that flexible working isn’t right for their business / the role, although one of the other areas being looked at in the consultation is whether the current eight business reasons that employers have for refusing flexible working requests remain valid.
As we see it, one of the more enlightened proposals under consideration is a requirement for employers to have to come up with alternatives and try to reach a compromise with employees. Adopting this type of approach would represent quite a change from the current position and is very much in line with the advice we give our clients – all too often the 8 business grounds are used as a checklist for refusing a request, rather than focusing on the important task of trying to retain the employee, their knowledge and skills. Temporary flexible working arrangements and trial periods are an excellent and under-utilised way to meet the needs of employees and test the operational feasibility of a flexible working pattern. A try-before-you-buy style approach, if you will. As we advise clients who are reticent about agreeing to a flexible working request, it’s far better to be proven right, and have the evidence to support this, than to reject the request on a ‘hunch’ that it won’t work and land yourself in an employment tribunal with little chance of defending your position. Turns out that the reality is often something different: an engaged, motivated, loyal employee who proves to their employer that they can work just as productively (perhaps even more so) with a flexible working arrangement that suits them and their particular needs at the time. A win-win, and no Tribunal claim!
Now is the ideal time for employers to figure out what flexible working means for them, and their organisation. Take online fashion retailer, ASOS, as an example, they’ve recently announced that staff will be allowed to work flexibly, as well as take time off at short notice, while going through the menopause. A brilliant initiative underlining the importance of thinking about flexible working across the entire life-cycle of employment, considering both the needs of younger and older workers.
We will report on the result of the consultation process once this closes, but in the meantime if you would like to learn more on the consultation it can be accessed here or, if you’d like to tap into our considerable experience of flexible working initiatives and/or how to handle flexible working requests, please do not hesitate to get in touch: email@example.com