How flexible can you be?

From 30th June all employees with 26 weeks service have the right to request flexible working. That is they can ask to work fewer days or hours, to adjust start or finish times, to work from home or to job share.

It is only the right to request, and employers can turn down the request. If they do, then the emphasis now is on having reached the decision in a reasonable manner , on mediation  and on arbitration as a means of resolving disputes. Previously there was a very prescriptive process in place that could easily lead to an Employment Tribunal. Now there will be little benefit, if any, in seeking resolution in a Tribunal.

Is this good for you?

A less prescriptive approach has to be good not just for you, but  for the employee too. Tribunals are not a great way of resolving employment conflicts.

But because the right to request flexible working has been extended you will  inevitably lose some control.

The extension also raises the potential for discrimination claims if competing requests are made, say between an employee  with a family and an employee who wants to pursue a hobby. You will have to be very careful not to trigger a discrimination claim. Recording non-discriminatory reasons for any decision, acting consistently and flipping a coin in the event of competing  requests of equal merit may be the answers.

BT claims flexible working (primarily home-based)  increases productivity compared to office based working – but then they may have a vested interest.

However academic  research from Cranfield,  based on blue-chip companies, suggests strongly that both the quality and the quantity of work is increased by use of flexible working.

Your employment culture is crucial to realising the  benefits. If employees perceive you have a negative view of flexible working they will be unlikely to make requests and the benefits will not be realised.

The Cranfield study also showed that Informal forms of flexibility work well even in the large organisations that formed the basis of their research. But when it came to teamwork it seemed that the jury was still out. That may have longer term implications about an organisation’s ability to respond in a changing world. It is too easy to undervalue the contribution of teamwork to change and adaptation.

However, reflecting on my own earlier work experience I can recall many hours when I saw employees “treading water”, I might even have done it myself. The hours had be spent “at work” but there weren’t work demands all the time. So the rule was to keep busy even if you weren’t really getting anywhere! Flexible working would have made better sense.

Concerns

There needs to be open-ness so that everyone can see the contribution they and colleagues are making. Where there is a suspicion that someone is not pulling their weight, because they work at different times or at different places, trust can breakdown. Work where the contribution can be seen clearly (and to an extent measured) is the most suitable.

For their part employees need to make sure their work is being recognised. One concern is that face-to-face interactions with the boss are important for career progress – and for power politics! Will flexible workers get left behind?

That links into the  concern  is that flexible working, like social media, may  hinder relationship building. But I could be wrong. Younger  generations sustain a wider circle of personal social interaction than has  previously been possible. Does it hinder relationship building? Whether social media hinder or enhance it, we may yet see the effect transposed into the work place.

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