Paul Wherly

Are Workplaces Prepared For Flexible Working?

Today’s Guest Blog is brought to you courtesy of Mark Williams of Pensar IT – one of our partners – an IT support company based in Central London.

The global landscape of work is changing dramatically. As our economies grow, businesses will need to be agile and responsive to new demands from consumers and employees. It is inevitable. Our 24/7 economy demands flexibility. That is why adaptable labour markets are essential. They help to ensure that we can respond to the ups and downs of the economic cycle. Most recently, flexible working helped to keep people in employment during the recession.

The right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees later this year. This type of work schedule is increasingly accepted by big businesses although currently employees have the right to request flexible working but no actual rights to work flexibly. At present, only parents who have child under the age of 17, or 18 if they are disabled, or those who are caring for a relative, are able to make a request for flexible working under the law. This means you cannot ask to work flexibly because you want to spend one day a week studying, for example.

However, these restrictions are about to be removed. When the Children and Families Act comes into force later this year, everybody will be given the right to ask for flexible working, providing they have at least 26 weeks’ employment with that employer. By extending the right to all employees, we move towards an attitudinal shift in that work/life is not just a women’s issue. However, issues could arise if different genders are treated differently. For example, if a female employee was allowed to work flexibly to pick up a child but a male employee was refused a request because he wanted to train for a sport, which may be discriminatory.

The key to a successful request is to prove to the employer that flexible working will not be an undue burden on the business. Flexible working is a two-way street. As employers place increasing demands on their employees’ time – e.g. asking for more weekend and evening hours – employees should offer greater flexibility in return. Even for the most dedicated employees, workplaces are only one part of their busy lives. If companies make it easier for them, they will be more engaged and productive when they are at work.

Further recommendations aim to advance a maximal agenda of workplace flexibility, to make flexible working practices a more prominent indicator of corporate social responsibility and to enable men and women to share more equally in their caring and social obligations. More specifically:

  • Extend and normalise flexible working to all employees by making the right to request universal
  • Enhance shared responsibility between employers and employees through a code of practice
  • Give recognition to vanguard employers, target support to those struggling to implement flexible working practices and monitor progress to ‘name and shame’ recalcitrant employers
  • Make shared parental leave affordable for both partners and employers through a contributory ‘carers account’
  • Extend and formalise carers’ leave
  • Enable all workers, regardless of status, role or sector, to take up volunteering

What’s your company’s policy in regards to flexible working? We’d love to hear your comments!

Original sources: “Reinventing the workplace”, by Dan Leighton and Thomas Gregory, Evening Standard, Tuesday 14 January issue, pg 45,

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