UK businesses told to adjust to flexible working hours
Every employee in the UK now has the right to request flexible working, and staff and businesses alike are having to adapt.
As workforce demographics change and technology makes it easier to work in different ways, more and more employers have allowed some level of flexibility for their staff.
But on 30 June, the right to formally request flexible working was extended to every employee in the UK, instead of just those with caring responsibilities. That means 20 million more people can now ask for the opportunity to work flexibly, and their request must be considered in a “reasonable” manner. Only one request can be made in any 12-month period.
The government says that the rules will particularly benefit older workers preparing for retirement, as well as the younger employees who may want to combine work with study or further training.
“Modern businesses know that flexible working boosts productivity and staff morale, and helps them keep their top talent so that they can grow. It’s about time we brought working practices bang up to date with the needs, and choices, of our modern families,” said deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.
Some employers have baulked at the changes, with the Forum of Private Business (FPB) complaining that the administrative burden on smaller companies in particular will increase considerably. Phil Orford, FPB chief executive, says that many firms already see the benefits of flexible working try to provide options for staff. But some concerns remain.
“In particular, with no requirement to link the request to caring responsibilities, this greatly increases the range and number of requests that can be made and therefore there is considerable scope for employees to judge that their request may not have been considered fairly,” he adds.
However, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development says that employers can benefit from a flexible workforce. Line managers need to be educated about how flexible working can be adopted in ways that suit the needs of the business and get the best out of a team.
Even unions still have some reservations, despite supporting the changes. The TUC says that it is still too easy for employers to refuse a request for flexible working.
“Unfortunately the right to request is only the right to ask nicely,” says general secretary Frances O’Grady. “Of course not everyone in every company or organisation is able to work flexibly – some requests will always need to be turned down. But without the right to challenge employers, many workers will continue to lose out.”
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