Here at Q&A People Matter, we're firmly of the belief that flexible working pays dividends for your company and your employees. By offering flexible working, your business is setting itself apart from those that don't. Research suggests that flexible working is a top priority for people looking at a potential new employer - more so than the financial package on offer.
In our first blog in a series of 3 about flexible working we asked 'Why is burnout on the increase when flexible working is more relevant?'. Why has the pandemic added to our stress levels if by working remotely we have, in theory a work-life balance?
Now, if we can understand what the precursors to burnout are and what aspects of flexible working can possibly contribute, then we can put processes in place to monitor employees, their workload and whether they have healthy attitudes and feelings towards their work. We'll visit the symptoms of burnout and behaviours in our final blog 'Is there a link between flexible working and burnout?'.
Awareness and applying best practice is fundamental for the success of flexible working.
Flexible working is a win-win
For employees, flexible working means they've ditched the daily commute, reduced their levels of stress as their time is now being managed far more efficiently and of course, have saved themselves a large amount of expenditure. Unnecessary coffee trips or a quick drink after work has been foregone and the work dress code is only required on the odd trips into the office.
Job satisfaction increases as a result of the autonomy and sense of freedom that's been given and there's now a degree of ownership of one's own projects and goals which are managed - but don't necessarily need to be delivered, within the traditional '9 to 5'.
Personal commitments are easier to meet under this arrangement and the employee feels happy, balanced and positive.
For employers, productivity is improved since a stressful employee is less likely to be productive even when they're working long hours. A stressed employee is more likely to take avoidance action i.e. take sick leave and succumb to sickness and health issues due to a weakened immune system.
Fundamentally, staff retention is higher; recruitment and training costs are lower. And, with a flexible workforce, your business is able to support its clients over an extended working day.
Making a request for flexible working
An employee's statutory right to request flexible working was dramatically widened in June 2014. Prior to this date, employees needed to meet prescriptive eligibility requirements, such as having caring responsibilities for either a child or an adult in need of care. Under current legislation, as long as an employee has 26 weeks' continuous service and has not made a previous request within the last year, they are eligible to request flexible working. The statutory procedure for dealing with flexible working requests was also repealed in 2014..
However, even eligible employees do not have the right to work flexibly, but rather a right to submit a request to their employer for flexible working. On receipt of the request, following the law change, the employer is under a duty to consider the request in a reasonable manner, but does not have to follow a statutory procedure.
Since the pandemic, requests for flexible working from parents who have immediate childcare issues as a result of a child being sent home to self-isolate, means employers should consider granting a temporary period of flexible working.
The key points for employers to note:
- Employees have the right to request flexible working if they've been employed for more than 26 weeks with the same employer. Service must be continuous.
- There is no period of qualification for claiming unfair dismissal in light of asking for a flexible working request to be considered.
- The regulations apply to both part time and full time employees.
- If the request for flexible working is refused, the employee must make a claim to an employment tribunal within 3 months of the relevant date.
Flexible working is good for your health too
A joint academic study conducted by the University of Surrey and Northwestern University has revealed traditional working hours could create serious health risks for certain employees. The study claims that although ‘early risers’ have little problem with the typical 9 to 5 routine, ‘night owls’ that are forced to stick to the same schedule face the prospect of increased mortality rates.
Researchers have advised organisations to acknowledge that certain staff may be better suited to alternative shift patterns and offer the option of flexible working. They claim that by giving these individuals the opportunity to have a lie-in and start work later can reduce psychological stress that impacts on exercise and eating habits.
Sleep deprivation has been linked to a rise in heart disease, diabetes, addiction and mental health disorders, with the papers co-author Prof. Malcom von Schantz declaring the matter a “public health issue that can no longer be ignored”.
Lack of sleep can also lead to a financial loss for an organisation, costing the UK economy an estimated total of £40 billion a year in reduced productivity and health according to a study by Rand Europe. Encouraging a working culture which enables an average of 6-7 hours of sleep per night rather than less than 6 hours could generate around £24billion to the UK economy, researchers suggest.
Flexible working processes will need to be established
At Q&A People Matter we have the expertise to guide you through the stages of creating a flexible working policy. Not only that, but we practice what we preach and have embedded flexible working into our business strategy for the past 17 years. We know what we're talking about!
These are some of the common questions employers ask:
- Do we have to agree to a request to return to full time work?
- Do we have to agree to a flexible working request for an employee to write a book?
- Can we show preference to requests for flexible working from people who are parents or carers?
- Do I have to let staff work from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic?
And once you have a flexible working policy in place, these are the processes that will need followed:
- Handling applications for flexible working
- Responding to an application
- Considering flexible working requests
- Arranging a meeting to discuss a flexible working request
- Accepting a request for flexible working
- Refusing a request for flexible working
- Dealing with appeals
- Handling an employment tribunal complaint
- Managing someone who works flexibly.
Flexible working can differentiate your business from your competitors
So the research would appear to recommend organisations adopt flexible working practices to cater for both 'owls' and 'larks'.
As we've already stated, UK legislation gives all employees a right to request flexible working after completing 26 weeks continuous service with their employer. Requests must be made in writing and clearly state what change in working conditions is being sought. Organisations should follow the statutory code of practice on dealing with requests reasonably, which includes discussing the request with the employee.
Employers may refuse a request providing the refusal is based on one of the legally permitted reasons. Organisations should avoid dismissing requests for flexible working without due consideration to avoid being caught out. If the individual making the request suffers from a disability, refusing a request may amount to a failure to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.
When analysing the feasibility of flexible working practices, organisations are encouraged to consider how it can benefit their workforce. In addition to the health benefits, organisations who make allowances for flexible working can provide greater gender equality for working mothers with ongoing childcare commitments. Likewise, the organisation is demonstrating that it is committed in its acknowledgement of employees' needs - and as a result, this will contribute to employee engagement and loyalty.
This is turn, makes the organisation attractive to potential employees. Flexible working practices can differentiate your business from another and lower your turnover of staff.
The pandemic, flexible working and burnout
Joanna Koretz, a psychologist practising in Boston is optimistic about flexible working (and remote working), the pandemic and burnout. Providing support to high powered executives, she has seen many clients with burnout symptoms. Quoted on the BBC Worklife: How to avoid burnout amid a pandemic? she says:
"This is going to make everybody's ability to manage, cope and be flexible much better. So when we go back to our day-to-day, things are going to be easier because we've done something very challenging."
Perhaps, now, since we've had to adapt our working practices, it's a good time to embrace flexibility, respond positively to change and look on this period as an opportunity not a threat.
On the Croner website, the article 'The introduction of flexible working is changing the way businesses operate' may pre-date the pandemic but all the points remain relevant today. It's a win-win: the employee feels their needs are being met and the employer gains a positive, productive and motivated employee resulting in lower staff turnover and reduced training and recruitment costs.
How can Q&A People Matter help you?
Do you need advice on setting up a flexible working policy?
Get in touch with us for our expert advice.