How flexible are you?

Posted by Debra Gers, 5th October 2018
The media is full of stories about the pressures faced by working parents but lack of flexible working opportunities is not just a concern for parents or carers, or people from a particular age group. Many organisations offer a flexible benefits platform because they recognise that the needs of millennials, baby boomers and generation X are quite different but flexible working is a benefit attractive to all ages.

If the salary is comparable in two potential jobs, most people are likely to choose the job that offered the greatest amount of flexible working. However, recent reports appear to show that flexible working is still not adopted on a wide scale and, when it is available, it is not the solution people hoped for.

According to the 2018 Modern Families index (May 2018) which surveyed over 2,750 working parents with children under 13:

  • 34% of parents disapproved of their employer’s approach to work-life balance with 37% of fathers expressing this concern compared to 32% of mothers;
  • Of those who worked flexibly, 72% took work home on the weekends and in the evenings;
  • 36% were willing to take a pay cut or move roles to prevent being burnt out.

The survey recommended that employers do more to promote and encourage the uptake of the family-friendly policies.

Another report was published in May, following a survey carried out by Timewise with Deloitte. Around 1,800 UK professionals were involved and 12 business leaders interviewed. The report, Manifesto for Change: A Modern Workplace for a Flexible Workforce published the results of a study into flexible working and revealed that flexible working is still perceived as a taboo in the workplace:

  • 20% believed that their job could not be done flexibly and that flexible working would harm their career progression if adopted;
  • 25% said that workplace culture did not support the uptake of flexible working;
  • 70% of workers wanted a workplace culture where workers were judged by the quality of their work and not the hours they put in;
  • 60% called on employers to introduce a variety of flexible working options.

For organisations interested in extending their opportunities for flexible working and in enhancing their success, the Manifesto for Change recommendations will be of interest:

  • Leaders must provoke cultural change and champion flexible working;
  • Flexible working should be gender neutral;
  • Design flexibility into jobs as standard, it should be the norm, not a perk;
  • Influence the attitudes and actions of managers;
  • Collect the data to measure the success of flexible working.

It is important to remember that there is a statutory right to request flexible working and this is distinct from any other flexible working arrangements an employer may put in place. Under the Flexible Working Regulations 2014, the right to request flexible working was extended to all employees (rather than simply parents or carers) in June 2014 provided that they have 26 weeks’ continuous employment at the date the request is made and have not made a request to work flexibly in the preceding 12 months.

The application must be made in writing and employers are obliged to consider applications in a “reasonable manner” and to complete the process, including any appeals, within three months but this period can be extended if both parties agree. Employers can only reject a request for one of eight statutory business reasons such as the burden of additional costs, the inability to re-organise work among existing staff or a detrimental impact on quality or performance.

There are undoubted business benefits to flexible working including improved productivity, staff commitment and better staff retention. Consequently, many organisations have decided that flexible working options should be available to all staff regardless of their length of service. This makes business sense especially at a time when some organisations are struggling to recruit skilled staff.

Interestingly, increased flexible working is a priority for the government too. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy has set up a new Flexible Working Task Force to promote wider understanding and implementation of flexible working. The Task Force is co-chaired by the CIPD and is made up of policy makers, employer groups, trade unions, research groups and professional bodies. According to CIPD research, the uptake of most types of flexible working has largely plateaued even though, as mentioned above, the right to request flexible working was extended in 2014. The Task Force will investigate the reasons for this and also try and meet the Prime Minister’s challenge to improve workplace equality by advertising all jobs as flexible from day one in employment. It will also evaluate the effectiveness of the Flexible Working Regulations in April 2019 and any changes are expected to be implemented in 2020/21.

Finally, in a separate development, the Work and Pensions Committee has asked the government to amend the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 to introduce a right to request flexible working from the first day of employment for carers.

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