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Flexible Working: Retaining your best staff post-pandemic

If you’re not offering flexible working, you may lose your best staff. 

It’s estimated that a third of employees may quit their jobs if flexible working is not made permanent after the pandemic. 

Have you considered the benefits of offering flexible working? This article explores these benefits and also looks at how not offering flexible working could negatively affect your business.

We also look at how you should handle requests for flexible working when you receive them and what process you should follow.

Flexible working has been the term on everybody’s lips lately, thanks to the pandemic. What exactly is flexible working?

Flexible working is any working pattern other than the normal working pattern required for that role. There are many forms of flexible working: a change to the hours, times or days an employee works, the location of the role, job sharing, shift working or remote or homeworking.

Although a flexible working request may suit the employees’ need, it has to also suit the business needs.  During the pandemic, some businesses were forced, almost over night, to adopt flexible working, ie. homeworking. However, long term, flexible working can benefit both parties.

What are the possible benefits to your business of offering flexible working?

  • It can attract new talent and therefore can be used as a magnet during a recruitment campaign.
  • It can improve staff retention and engagement – also saving on recruitment costs down the line.
  • It can increase productivity
  • It promotes better work/life balance, job satisfaction and commitment
  • It can save on office space, for example using technological advances to help remote working and hot desking
  • It can help reduce absence rates and support staff managing disabilities, long-term conditions and mental health issues
  • Where remote or homeworking is suitable, it can wider the geographical reach of top talent.

If you are considering flexible working, there are some other things to consider:

  • Flexible working is not suitable for all jobs. Businesses will therefore need to consider which roles are suitable. Where there may be some tasks that can be performed in the office and some from another location, you may wish to consider hybrid working (see my article Hybrid Working: a new blended way of working)
  • Some staff may feel isolated from the business and their team
  • Not all staff have suitable environments to work from home
  • As teams may be working at different times or locations, communication will be important
  • If working from home, the boundary between home and work can become blurred, so clear guidelines must be set to avoid staff burnout and stress.

People in your business have the legal right to request flexible working where they have continuous employment for 26 weeks. 

Whether you accept or refuse these requests is down to the employer, but each request must seriously be considered and can only be refused for a number of reasons (see below).

What is the process employers must follow when they receive a flexible working request?

Here are some key points:

  • Requests must be made in writing, stating the date of the request.
  • If an employee has already made a request (whether accepted or rejected), they are not entitled to make another request until 12 months later.
  • Employers do not have to agree to the request but must have a sound business reason for rejecting it.  The reason(s) must be from the following list:
    • the burden of additional costs 
    • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff 
    • an inability to recruit additional staff 
    • a detrimental impact on quality
    • a detrimental impact on performance 
    • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand 
    • insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work 
    • a planned structural changes to the business.

Making a request

  • As stated above, employees must have worked for you for at least 26 weeks to have the statutory right to request flexible working. However, you can extend the right to all staff if you wish, regardless of length of service.
  • All employees can make a request – not just parents and carers.
  • Requests should state the change required, the date they wish the change to be made and how they think this may affect the business e.g. cost saving to the business, benefit/value to the business.
  • Employees must state if they are making their request in relation to the Equality Act 2010, for example, as a reasonable adjustment for a disability.

What should you do when you receive a request:

  • consider the request seriously
  • arrange to meet with the person to discuss their request. 
  • if the change is possible, confirm it in writing. The change forms a permanent change to the terms and conditions of employment
  • if their request is not possible, discuss alternative options
  • if the request cannot be accommodated, confirm this in writing based on 1 (or more) of the reasons above. Give a right of appeal.
  • you must give the employee a decision within 3 months (this can be extended if the employee agrees).

You are entitled to do what’s best for the business, but you must remain consistent in your decision making. It is advisable to have this all outlined in your flexible working policy. 

If you need any help with implementing flexible working into your business, drafting a Flexible Working Policy or dealing with requests, please speak to a member of the Hill HR team.

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