Do flexible working rights need to be extended?


We promised that we would return to the subject of the States of Jersey’s Family Friendly Review that was carried out earlier this year.

One of the proposals relates to extending the right to request flexible working to all employees, not just those with caring responsibilities as at present. It goes on to ask whether that right should be dependant on length of service.

Similar legislation became a reality in the UK in 2014 where all employees with at least 26 weeks’ service have the right to put in an application for flexible working. Interestingly, this extension has not had the take-up that one might expect…

In April 2016, CIPD in their Employee Outlook report found that 54% of employees nationally use at least one form of flexible working. It is interesting to compare the results of this report with the one CIPD produced in May 2012 (Flexible working provision and uptake). In 2012, just under three-quarters (74%) of employees in the flexible working survey were using some type of flexible working. More interesting are their earlier results, cited in the 2012 report, that show 56% in 2006 and 51% in 2004 of employees were using some type of flexible working.

The explanation for the increase in flexible working arrangements in 2012 may well be a hangover from the 2008 recession. By 2012, the economy was in recovery but, after four years, the effects of cutting employees’ hours to part-time, increasing productivity by compressing hours and/or rearranging working patterns would have been firmly in place. Four years later, in 2016, the percentage of employees who are flexible working is back to pre-recession levels.

The CIPD results suggest that, in the UK in 2014, the implementation of extending the right to request flexible working to all employees, not just those with caring responsibilities, had little effect on the proportion of employees that work flexibly. Shocks to the economy appear to have a much greater effect!

There may be many reasons why the take up of flexible working has not increased with the introduction of the right for those without caring responsibilities to request it:

  • the extension allows for employees to request a right, it does not grant that right;
  • it is still a relatively new piece of legislation and employees without caring responsibilities may not be aware of it;
  • there is a stigma attached to requesting flexible working when you do not have caring responsibilities – you may be seen by colleagues as slacking;
  • employers didn’t require legislation to implement flexible working, they were already providing it to those who wanted it.

So, if the take up of flexible working for those without caring responsibilities is slight, what’s the point in extending the right?

Before dismissing the extension and/or any employee requests for flexibility stemming from such an extension, it is worth considering the benefits of increasing the flexibility offered to your business:

  • Employee morale increases, which has a knock-on effect on:
    • Loyalty – employees are less likely to leave if they feel that there is a give-take culture at work, decreasing staff turnover; (also, employees are more likely to stay if they are unable to find another employer who offers exactly the same flexibility as you do!)
    • Fewer sickness days – employees who can manage their time better are less likely to be stressed and/or less likely to take “sickies” to deal with events outside of work.
  • Cost savings from hot-desking and home working – more and more employees are working in the evenings and at weekends from home on mobile devices that, at the very least, allow them to keep on top of their emails, an extended flexible working policy makes the economies offered by this technology and way of working official and enables you to monitor and control its usage.
  • It is good for your image:
    • having a reputation as an understanding and caring employer, who is sensitive to employees’ needs to balance work and life, is likely to attract more applications for a position and provide a greater diversity of recruits to choose from;
    • it demonstrates an awareness of social responsibility – by allowing employees time to do other things, they may spend that time volunteering or undertaking tasks that reduce their family’s or community’s cost to public services;
    • it can encourage and support fathers to take family time, when they are not the main child carer, without feeling stigmatised or embarrassed for doing so.
  • Young employees are seeking, and expecting, employment that fulfils them – by allowing them to work flexibly they have time to pursue interests that may be more fulfilling than any work you can offer them, helping to retain them. They may also spend the time extending their skills by undertaking training from which you may, as a business, benefit.
  • Employees looking towards retirement are seeking ways in which they can begin to wind down their career – by allowing them to work flexibly they will receive some of the benefits of retirement without losing touch with the stimulus of work, enabling them to stay in the workplace longer and allowing your business to continue to benefit from their years of experience.
  • Efficiency, engagement and productivity increases, particularly when employees work part-time, in a job sharing arrangement or compressed hours. Having a reduced amount of hours in which to achieve a set amount of work focuses the mind and unproductive time such as chats in the kitchen, smoking breaks, surfing the Internet, diminish.
  • Extended working hours – allowing employees to come in earlier or leave later extends the opening hours of the business, although this does require managing to ensure that you have a good spread of flexible working hours.
  • Should the business find itself financially constrained, an existing culture of flexible working can make it easier to avoid redundancies and retain people, albeit on reduced hours.

Speaking to a Jersey business in the finance sector recently, who has been offering flexible working to all its twenty-five employees for years, they are firmly in favour of it. They believe that it has enabled them to recruit skilled professionals that they would otherwise not have been in a position to employ, extend their business opening times to suit their clients and retain employees so their staff turnover is low.

They did, however, offer some words of warning about flexible working:

  • It can cost more – two part-time employees versus one full-time employee is likely to be more expensive;
  • It requires management time:
    • to oversee the work being done, especially by homeworkers;
    • to manage requests and ensure that they are granted fairly;
    • to ensure electronic data is stored confidentially and securely when offsite;
    • to assess the performance of full-time and part-time employees fairly and equally;
    • to manage expectations – not all jobs suit flexible working.
  • Employers need to ensure that communication channels are robust so that people can be reached when working out of the office;
  • Employers may need to do extra work on team cohesion with a weekly team meeting in the office and team building activities outside the office.

Law At Work’s own experience is that flexible working works. We use a variety of flexible working arrangements to accommodate employee requests for a work-life balance, including compressed hours, part-time, homeworking, flexi-time and phased retirement. These arrangements are not just offered to those with caring responsibilities.

We suspect that this is the case for most employers, who recognise the benefits of a win-win situation. We are, therefore, sceptical that introducing legislation to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees, not just those with caring responsibilities, will have any effect on the work-life balance of a significant number of Jersey employees.

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