As the right to request flexible working is extended to all your workforce, we ask whether it’s a potential problem – or a great opportunity?
Conversations about work, whether taking place in the workplace, at home or out at the weekend with friends, often touch at some point on whether we have the right balance between work and home life. In the past, the majority of your employees have not been in a position to ask you for changes to their working patterns to accommodate a desire for what they consider to be a better work/life balance as this has been limited to those, who some may say, need to have altered work patterns for practical life matters rather than life choices, namely working parents and carers.
From 30 June 2014, the right to request flexible working is to be extended to all your employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service. So will this lead to some of your employees who did not have the right before to ask to alter their hours so that they can come into work earlier because they would like to be able to go to the gym before dinner, or for Fridays off so that they can go to their caravan for an extended weekend break, or even take an extended lunch break to walk their dog?
And, if you have a rise in requests from all employees for flexible working, have you decided how your business will deal with those requests?
There are a number of difficult situations that may arise that you ought to be alert to, including receiving multiple simultaneous requests and conflicting requests; what happens if a working parent makes a request to adjust their hours to accommodate the school run and at the same time, someone asks to adjust their hours so that they can walk the dog in the evening at a more convenient time to them?
The key principle that you need to consider is that your business should follow a fair and essentially objective process. Whilst it may be difficult to have a set cap on the number of requests permitted, you may want to consider if there is an optimum number that the business could reasonably accommodate. It would also be difficult to prioritise particular categorising of employee and so the most suitable approach is to deal with requests as they arise and if they arise at the same time, then you may want to consider one as priority if it is of a more urgent nature.
It’s vital that you plan for this imminent change and anticipate what your business may have to deal with.
Our top tips:
- Assess your company’s business needs and its workforce structure;
- Consider if particular departments or roles lend themselves to flexible working more easily than others in business terms;
- Prepare a policy that deals with the changes to flexible working and anticipates the particular difficulties that your business may have;
- Consider requests that you receive in line with your policy and take into account the individual’s own case on its merits.
Having a plan in place provides your business with evidence of its objectivity so if someone later tries to allege that their request was refused because their line manager was biased or discriminatory, you can demonstrate that the planning and assessment process was carried out long before their request was made and that the line manager was following policy, which has been based on business reasons.
Here’s a curve ball to consider; what about letting employees know about the extension of the right to request flexible working? Your business would be seen by your employees as embracing work/life balance, which will boost morale and from a planning perspective, your business could take advantage of being able to deal with all requests in one go rather than them coming in dribs and drabs over the next few months as employees get wind of their rights.