Perceptions of working routines have changed in recent years.  Many think it is the end of the traditional 9-5. With changes in flexible working laws, there is more opportunity for employees to request this.

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits, as well as drawbacks, of implementing flexible working in your workplace.

What is flexible working?

‘Flexible working’ describes a type of working arrangement which gives a degree of flexibility on how long, where, when and at what times employees work.

Flexible working arrangements can be formal or informal. Some organisations amend the written employment contract when new working arrangements are put in place, and/or include flexible working policies in the employer’s handbook.

However, some forms of flexible working, such as working from home, are likely to be offered informally, for example in agreement with an employee’s line manager.

Types of flexible working

This list isn’t exhaustive. Flexible working can include other practices, for example, employee self-rostering, shift-swapping or taking time off for training.

Some of the most common types of flexible working include: 

  • Remote working/ working from home: employees work periodically or regularly from a location remote from the workplace. This can be at home or elsewhere.  
  • Flexitime: an employee has a period they need to work and they can choose when to begin and end that time, within certain limits. 
  • Part-time work: contracted work less than full-time hours. 
  • Compressed hours: rearranging an employee’s working hours into fewer, but longer working blocks.  
  • Job sharing: part-time work where multiple employees share the responsibilities and hours of a full-time job between them.  
  • Annualised hours: where the number of hours they must work for the year is fixed but they can have a variation of the days and length of days. Employees may or may not have a choice over the patterns.  
  • Career breaks: extended periods of leave, usually unpaid, of up to 5 years or more.  
  • Commissioned outcomes: no fixed hours or days but they have targets they must hit to be successful. 

Employee rights with flexible working

Employees have a right to put in a statutory flexible working request. This came into place in April 2003 as the UK Government introduced the ‘right to request flexible working.’  

This legislation entitles all employees with at least 26 weeks of continuous employment to make a request, regardless of parental or caring responsibilities.  

Employers have to consider a request reasonably and can only refuse a statutory request if you can show that one of a specific number of grounds applies. 

The right to request flexible working doesn’t apply to some categories of worker, for example, certain agency workers.   

Benefits and disadvantages of flexible working

Advantages for employers and employees exist when the employer allows employees to work flexible schedules.  

Whether the flexible work schedule involves compressing work days, flexible daily hours, or remote working, challenges exist for the employer and the employee.  

Let’s take a look at the advantages for employers and employees that negotiating a flexible work schedule provides. 

Employee benefits

  • Better work-life balance: more flexibility to meet family and personal needs around their work schedule.  
  • Cost: remote working or flexitime allows employees to save on commuting costs, be that missing peak time or removing their commute entirely. They can also save on food costs if they usually eat out for lunch. 
  • Control: the employee can control the hours and working environment to suit them best. Some employees may feel they work better from home or at different points of the day. Flexibility allows them to choose.    

Employer benefits

  • Boosts office morale: giving an employee more control over their work schedule leads to a happier workforce. Increased morale improves engagement and commitment to the organisation, which usually improves the quality of work.  
  • Reduces absenteeism: choosing when is best for them to work can help reduce burnout and other stress-related illnesses. Employees won’t ‘pull a sickie’ either if they can work remotely.  
  • Reduces employee turnover: with increased morale and positive perceptions of their job/employer, the employee turnover will reduce.  
  • Enhances company image: hiring new skilled employees will be easier because a positive work environment is apparent when applying for jobs.  

Employee disadvantages

  • Hinders office staff: with differing hours and schedules, those who prefer to work in the office in a traditional 9-5 sense may suffer. Either from lack of colleagues at work or limited availability because of little overlap in hours. This can be because of little chance to collaborate or feelings of isolation.  
  • Misleads loved ones: often makes neighbours and friends think they aren’t working, thus causing problems with their relationships. Family and friends can become upset when you say they can’t watch their child or let the repairman into their houses because they’re home all day. This may lead to them doing these things out of pressure.  
  • No clear divide: while you may assume an employee would take advantage of this arrangement, the opposite is usually the case. They will be working far longer than they should and will feel like they are always on the. This can lead to massive burnouts.  

Employer disadvanges

  • Lack of productivity: some members of staff can work independently whereas others need more overseeing or management. Management also might find it difficult having a lack of control or having to embrace the trust that comes along with it. Employees may also simply take advantage of this flexibility and focus more on non-work things, such as household chores or entertainment.  
  • Client availability: many clients will expect service 5 days a week during business hours, which makes it difficult to service them effectively if employees have variable hours.  
  • Workplace morale: while providing flexible working for all allows for a boost in morale, it often isn’t the case that everyone’s job role will permit that. This will lead to employees who can’t have flexible working arrangements feeling hard done by, or viewing the flexible workers as slackers.  

Flexible working and health & safety

If you have employees working remotely from home, you are still responsible for their health & safety. All the HSE legislation for the workplace applies to those working outside of it.  

If you have more than five employees, you have a legal requirement to assess potential risks to their work environment before employment begins and record any significant findings. You must: 

  • Conduct risk assessments at the start of the employment or contract and when there has been a significant change to the home and review at least annually where there is no change. 
  • Provide adequate information, instruction, training and supervision on health and safety matters. 
  • Involve home workers when considering potential risks and discuss how best to control them. 
  • Take appropriate steps to remove risks around the home wherever possible. 

This can be a self-assessment checklist to be completed by the employee. Our risk assessment services can help you ensure compliance. We will provide you with templates as well as audit your existing health & safety processes. Stay compliant and keep your employees safe with us.  

This post was written by Kate Palmer, from Peninsula UK.