The right to flexible working has been extended in law to be a fundamental and universal right for UK employees. For many this threatens to become an issue; and it need not be so. This article is not intended to go through the procedures and legislation. There are plenty of excellent articles ‘out there’ and probably all you need to know can be found on the ACAS site here including downloads about codes of guidance and best practice.
This post is intended to give an appreciation of what can be involved, and some idea where you need to be looking and to recognize the kind of facts you are likely to need.
To summarise, employees have the right to have a request for flexible working to be considered by an employer in a timely manner; and taken at ‘face value’ appears to be straight forward i.e. The employee making the request; and the employer considering the request.
The factors involved can range from the simple to the complex; and it is the ‘unknown’ which make both employees and employers start to think ‘twice’. No one wants to sign up for something that has unforeseen consequences, including the person making the request.
In the main it does remain straight forward. However a checklist to provide assurances the important factors are not overlooked does no harm; and any method that maintains cohesion in the workplace has to be a good thing.
There are three ‘players’ or stakeholders. The employee, the employer, and other staff – or team mates if you like. Even with a strong culture of shared values (esprit de corps) within the workplace the stakeholders will guarantee these three competing perspectives:
- The employee will have personal objectives and goals for flexible working;
- The employer will have management objectives to achieve business goals; and
- The team will have a collective workplace sentiment known as a sense of ‘fair play’.
This framework can be represented as follows:
A method of operating with the ‘facts’ and working with them in such a way to enable full consideration to be given with reasons, both ‘for’ and ‘against’, will reduce if not eliminate conflict:
- The reasons for flexible working can be anything and are not being considered but the arrangements about employee working hours will be. The first thing is to define the proposed hours so there is no doubt or misunderstanding about when the hours are worked as well as how many. Here is an example.
- Once the proposed production hours are understood then they can be compared or analyzed against the business requirements. For example, is the employee skill set unavailable at a time it is most likely to be needed by the business, or can an acceptable alternative be found. Here is an example.
- Is there a commercial or cost impact on the business. Clearly this will be a sharp focus for many employers, but it is the easiest to demonstrate i.e. it will be a figure (assuming you are adding the right numbers) and not a sentiment. For example, lost opportunity costs due to unavailability can be avoided by increasing forward planning about staff availability and communicating it. Here is an example.
- Closely allied to (2) above the impact of the employee working arrangements can be assessed in the context of other team members working arrangements. For example, do other team members have to increase ‘unsocial hours’ working to compensate, or can it be demonstrated there is no appreciable effect. Here is an example.
Provided flexible working is seen as a three-way relationship, and focus is on the convergence of competing perspectives (rarely are these hostile), then it is unlikely you will miss anything significant. Moreover, the steps toward agreeing flexible working arrangements are likely to deliver wider improvements as you revisit long standing and routine working arrangements.
In short, flexible working should be seen as an opportunity to deliver a general health-check about the way you and your staff do business.
- Getting it wrong – an ill-thought out shift pattern can incur significant expense for your business.
- Staff Scheduling – The Neglected Management Skill. A whitepaper written some time ago but just as relevant today.
- Free Staff Cost Benefit Analysis Report – an analysis of 9 workforce factors will give you a clear indication about the state of your workforce management strategy. You receive a PDF report as an attachment direct to your email of choice, confidence is assured.