Flexible working helps employers meet the changing needs of customers and staff. Globalisation, a competitive environment and technological advances mean most of us work at times and in places that don’t fit the traditional 9-5 Monday-Friday pattern.
Employers have a ‘duty of care’ to protect employees from risks to their health and safety, which might include stress caused by long hours or the struggle to balance work and home life. It’s important for managers to consider what flexible adjustments might be made to support staff who need to combine work with caring responsibilities.
Promoting flexible working hours to your staff makes good business sense and offers a lot of benefits:
- Improved cost-effectiveness and efficiency, savings on overheads or less downtime for machinery
- Extended operating hours to service the 24/7 expectations of customers
- Ability to attract and retain a skilled and diverse workforce with reduced recruitment costs and better employee relations
- More job satisfaction, improved staff morale, engagement, motivation and commitment and reduced levels of sickness absence.
- Increased customer satisfaction and loyalty as a result of the above.
- Improved competitiveness and the ability to react to changing market conditions effectively
- Efficient managers need to make best use of resources and flexible work patterns address workplace pressures by optimising available labour and improving customer service.
Barriers to change
These will vary from place to place, but here are some things to consider when planning a flexible working policy:
- Potential operational difficulties, additional costs and resistance from managers
- Possible pressure on workers who aren’t requesting flexible working
- Potential negative impact on customer service and quality of work
- Problems in scheduling work and shifts with varied work arrangements to consider
- Difficulties in communicating with employees not working on organisational premises
Flexible working may help improve health and wellbeing and, as a result, reduce absenteeism, increase productivity, and enhance employee engagement and motivation.
Plan for fitness and flexibility
The main benefit of working flexibly for employees is that it offers the chance to fit other commitments and activities around work and make better use of free time. Consult employees and show how flexible working arrangements may impact on the business. Consider such things as:
- What flexible working arrangements will be suit the organisation?
- How will applications for flexible work be dealt with – the administration?
- Are there jobs that might be difficult to do via a flexible working arrangement?
- How flexible are IT arrangements for employees working away from the base premises?
A CIPD report on ‘Flexible working provision and uptake’ in 2012 found that 72% of the employers surveyed believed that implementing flexible working practices had a positive impact on staff engagement and 73% felt that it had a positive impact on employee motivation. Not all flexible working arrangements will be suitable but technology means that most roles can be adapted to be more flexible. For some customer facing roles options may be limited but flexitime, part-time working and job sharing are worth considering.
Flexible work arrangements succeed when employees and managers communicate well, respecting organisational and individual needs, obligations and responsibilities. The relationship between manager and employee working flexibly is key to the success of any arrangement and is facilitated by setting and documenting clear and realistic expectations.