19 Jul 2022
Thank you to Paula for sharing her knowledge and experiences with us.
There are many perceptions and ideas around flexible working, the kind of people who utilise it and how it works. We are here to bust some myths and discuss flexible working.
Paula became a widow, with two children. She worked for an organisation who adapted her working patterns and her role to fit her situation. They promoted her and helped sculpt work around her situation. It had a really big impact, showing the difference organisations can make to an individuals life, helping them balance their work and life.
What is Flexible Working?
- A way of working that suits an employee- for example, flexible start/end times or working from home.
- All employees have the right to request flexible working, not just parents and carers.
Something to consider- Flexible working on the whole is still, to a certain extent, for the privileged. It is more available to people who are higher paid or in office jobs. Whereas people in customer facing jobs, hospitality or the service industry are less likely to be offered this option. These jobs, as well as others such as teaching, tend to have very set specific hours.
These places may lean more towards a zero hours contract than allowing for flexible set hours. Also their reduced hours may involve lower pay.
Some people’s living situations may not allow for flexible working; some people may not have the available space to work from home.
And not all employers are enlightened yet as to what the right process is, or how to go about it, taking a blanket approach to things rather than looking at what individual employees needs are.
Protected characteristics that might influence flexible working requests:
- Marital Status
- Pregnancy/ Maternity
It is important to understand; all requests should be considered equally against both individual and business needs. A request does not need to be due to a protected characteristic.
There is lots of campaigning at the moment, around mental health and neurodiversity, to try and get these added into protected characteristics as well.
- There is an ACAS code of practice- it includes addressing the advantages and disadvantages of the application, holding a meeting to discuss the request with the employee and offering an appeal process.
- If an employer doesn’t handle a request in a reasonable manner, the employee can take them to an employment tribunal. This is happening more often.
- An employer CAN refuse an application if they have a good reason.
An example – Indirect sex discrimination and Flexible working request denial
An estate agent returned from a year of Maternity leave and requested a four day week and shorter hours, due to childcare. This was rejected by her employer, on the grounds of “additional costs” and apparent detrimental effects on other staff members. It was found that the role she was in (full time, 9-6, Monday to Friday) did put her at a disadvantage. She presented a report, the results of which said “64% of mothers, compared to 36% of fathers, are the primary caregivers for their children.” So she presented this to show she was being discriminated against due to sex.
Types of Flexible Working
- Job Sharing – Two people can do one job and split the hours
- Condensed hours – working full time hours but across fewer days
- Remote working and hybrid working
- Part Time
- Flexitime – The employee can choose when to start and end work (within agreed limits) but works certain “core hours”
- Annualised hours – an employee works a certain amount of hours over the year but has some flexibility about when they work- this sometimes has “core hours” that the employee will work each week and sometimes they will work the rest of their hours flexibly or when there is extra demand for work
- Staggered hours – the employee has different start, finish and break times from other workers
- Phased retirement – default retirement age has been phased out and older workers can choose when they retire. This means they can reduce their hours and work part time.
- Term time working patterns for parents
A Current Trend is Influencing Flexible Working:
The Great Resignation
Flexible working became part of the norm during the pandemic and it created opportunities previously not available to employees. A large number of employees , approximately 55%, became willing to leave for roles that offered greater flexibility/ better roles. The knock on effect is there are now more vacancies than before and the power balance has shifted towards job seekers, who are feeling empowered to ask for what they want and flexible working is high on the list. There is a proposal for allowing flexible working requests to happen from day one of employment and removing the limit on the number of requests that can be made within a twelve month period; this limit is currently 1 request in a year.
Flex working practises that are gaining momentum
- 4 day week – There is currently a 6 month pilot scheme underway in the UK. The aim is to maintain 100 per cent productivity at 80 per cent the normal time, without an impact on pay. It has been trialled in Iceland and there are perceived benefits such as: focus on people’s wellbeing, reduced commuting days, more sociable hours, attending necessary appointments. However, the model may not work for all organisations or professions.
- Remote Working – perceived to offer a better work/life abalance for soe and emplyers significant cost saving. Removing commuting time and being home can amount to more time to spend with family and friends, better opportunities to undertake exercise, attending appointments and a better means of meeting care obligations for parents and carers. Remote working has also been perceived to widen opportunities for employees previously limited by geography. However, it is not suitable for all workplaces/ roles.
- Hybrid Working - Not all employees want to adopt a fully remote working practice and not all want to return to the office. An ONS report last year said that 85% of adults working from home would like a Hybrid working model. For hybrid working to be effective, there must be a clear focus on outcomes and trust between leaders and their teams.
- Flexible Holiday- Deloitte has announced plans to introduce a flexible public holiday policy. Staff can decide when to take public holidays as annual leave. The ability to take public holidays, which are closely linked to UK/Christian calendar at another time, perhaps during another religious festival, could help attract a more diverse workforce. Other organisations provide options of buying and selling holiday days.
The Future of Flexible Working
- Staff are more productive and engaged; no commute times, clear expectations, more global possibilities and participation from all locations.
- Communication os more inclusive and efficient – access to CEO’s and the whole company is happening more often and it also has been shown to allow more introverted team members to engage in a wat they are comfortable with, levelling the playing field for people who may sometimes get left out.
- Hierarchues are starting to be flattened – more cross functional and project based ways of working
- Office space developing into a colabortaion and innovation hub