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Flexible Working painful or progressive?

April 2024 Legislative Changes


Employee Flexibly Working

Recent legislation came into effect from April 2024 to increase the rights of employees to request flexible working*. Though this aims to encourage a more diverse and agile workforce, it has also made the task of managing requests and expectations of employees more onerous for employers.   These changes undoubtedly reflect a cultural and economic shift, exacerbated by the pandemic, to move away from the traditional 9 – 5 working week.  The diverse nature of today’s workforce places a greater emphasis on flexible working in order to cope with conflicting responsibilities and also the demands of society.  


What is Flexible Working


The CIPD defines flexible working as “working arrangements which allow employees to vary the amount, timing, or location of their work, usually to the mutual benefit of the individual and organisation” (1).  Overall the benefits are expected to be far reaching for the UK economy and businesses, leading to increased employment levels and access to larger talent pools.  Despite this at a micro level many organisations do not always view flexible working positively and some are vocally moving back towards the pre 2020 office based model; which does not recognise the preferences of worker to a increased work life balance and also potentially restricts workplace agility.    In this blog I will explore the pros and cons of flexible working and help guide whether flexible working is likely to be painful or progressive for your business.


The Pros of Flexible Working


  • Increased Job Satisfaction - Employees often appreciate the flexibility to balance work and personal life, leading to higher job satisfaction.

  • Retention - Happy employees are more likely to stay with the company, reducing turnover and the associated costs of recruiting and training new staff. “Higher levels of engagement, experienced by working flexibly, can reduce staff turnover by 87%” (1)

  • Productivity - Many employees find they are more productive outside the traditional office environment where there are fewer distractions. According to the CIPD, 9 in 10 employees consider flexible working to be a key motivator to their productivity at work (1)

  • Efficiency - Flexibility can lead to employees working during their most productive hours, enhancing overall output.

  • Talent Attraction - Flexible work arrangements can attract talent from a broader geographic area, not limiting the business to local candidates only. Younger generations are increasingly looking for benefit packages offering more in the way of progressive, autonomous flexibility particularly around hours worked, annual leave and locations.

  • Equality – Flexible working can provide more opportunities to those elements of the workforce more likely to be balancing care giving responsibilities or those with special needs who may find the rigors of travel or office based work inhibiting.

  • Competitive Edge - Offering flexible work can make a small business more attractive to top talent compared to competitors who don’t offer such options. This is particularly important when your business is facing financial constraints and can offer flexibility in lieu of salary increases

  • Cost Savings - Reduced Overhead from large office spaces and related expenses (utilities, office supplies, etc.).

  • Decreased Absenteeism - Flexibility can reduce the number of sick days taken by employees.

  • Adaptability and Resilience - Flexibility in working arrangements can make a business more adaptable in crises, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Innovation - A diverse and satisfied workforce can lead to more innovative ideas and approaches.


The Cons of Flexible Working


  • Coordination - Ensuring effective communication and coordination among remote or flexible workers can be challenging.

  • Isolation - Some employees may feel isolated without the regular social interactions of an office environment which can be detrimental to mental health

  • Monitoring Productivity - It can be harder to monitor performance and productivity of remote workers.

  • Consistency - Ensuring that all employees are meeting standards and deadlines can be more complex with varied schedules.

  • Infrastructure Costs - Investing in the necessary technology for remote work (laptops, software, VPNs, etc.) can be expensive.

  • Cybersecurity - Maintaining data security with a dispersed workforce requires robust and sometimes costly measures.

  • Overwork and Blurred Lines – Without clear boundaries, employees may struggle to separate work from personal life, leading to decreased productivity and health issues.

  • Cultural Impact - Maintaining a strong company culture can be difficult without regular in-person interactions.

  • Team Cohesion - Building and maintaining team spirit and cohesion can be more challenging with remote workers.


Conclusion


As I have indicated, the pros and cons of flexible working are varied.  Whether it works for your business will largely depend on the industry or sector you work in and what you can feasibly adopt without impacting your service provision.  It can be a progressive step for small businesses and help to overcome some of the difficulties you may be facing with recruitment, retention, costs, competitiveness or diversity.  There are challenges around communication and maintaining a strong organisational culture which could be painful in the short term. However, with careful management these pitfalls may be overcome.


Employers Responsibilities


Regardless of the extent to which your business is able to offer flexibility to its workforce, complying with the legislation and following due process around considering and consulting on requests is essential. 


*For more information on the April 2024 Flexible Working legislation and your responsibilities and duties as an employee please contact me on annette@hbhrs.co.uk


Resources
  1. Flexible Working: The Business Case – CIPD November 2018


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