It’s official: flexible working is the future. A recent study carried out by XpertHR* revealed that a massive 80% of employers are prepared to consider requests to work flexibly, whether or not the employee has a legal right to do so.
And why wouldn’t they when the benefits are both mutual and far reaching?
How does it benefit the boss?
For employers it seems recognition of the advantages is more widespread than that of the difficulties; among the benefits, improved retention (74%) and employee commitment (67%) ranked as the most appealing. What’s more, flexible working has proved to be a surprise solution to looming redundancies, enabling employers to hang on to talent by reorganising their input in creative ways.
British Airways is a recent, high profile example. The company sent an email to over 30,000 of its employees asking them to consider working four weeks unpaid or to opt for part-time hours in order to lessen the impact of the recession on both the business and individuals. Chief executive Willie Walsh himself agreed to forgo a £61,000 monthly pay cheque.
As for the benefits to the employee, most make requests to fit work around childcare needs, to make time for study or to improve their commute. The result: a happy employee, who works hard and who wants to stick around.
What's the law?
The legal right to flexible work is in fact very narrow. Parents of children under 17 or those of disabled children under 18 are legally entitled to make a request to the employer – who is obliged to consider the application seriously. However, the law is out of step with the workplace, which, over the past decade, has embraced the notion of flexibility, offering solutions far more widely than legislation dictates.
The future's flexible
And it’s not just good business sense that’s driving acceptance of this new way of working. By 2030, one in five UK workers will be mums, 25% of all families will be single-parent families and up to 10 million people will have carer responsibilities as the population continues to age.** Suddenly, flexibility becomes the only way to keep us all working in pure and simple practical terms.
Currently only 18% of us take advantage of flexible working arrangements, and that’s largely because we aren’t aware of our choices or the commercial gains to be had. So what kind of flexible options might be available to you? Here’s a round up of the most common ones:
Part-time work : You could be working half days, short days or less than five days a week. This is a popular option for women returning to work after pregnancy or for those who want more time for study or other interests. To cover a full-time position, your company might arrange job sharing between two part-time employees.
Flexitime: An increasingly popular option that provides workers some control over their hours, particularly start and finish times.
Annualised hours: Originally used by seasonal industries, annualised hours schemes now help other employers deal with fluctuating workloads by stipulating a set number of hours per year an employee is required to work.
Zero-hours contracts: These guarantee workers no work at all, but require them to be "on call". You’re most likely to come across zero-hours contracts in nursing, retail or supply teaching.
Term-time working: This allows employees time off during school holidays.
Compressed hours: The working week is restructured so that the same number of hours can be worked in fewer days. For example, you could do four ten-hour days instead of five eight-hour days and gain a day off a week.
V-time working: This is a voluntary arrangement that reduces an employee's hours for an agreed period, with a guarantee that they will resume full-time employment at a specific date.
Location, location, location
Flexible working also covers where you work:
Hot-desking: You’ll be given a desk to work at as and when you’re in the office, and you’ll probably be sharing this space with several others. This option is driven by the increasingly high costs of urban office space.
Working from home: An increasingly popular option for those looking to avoid the daily commute, but you’ll need to be disciplined, organised and motivated, with a trusting employer on side to boot.
So if you need more time with your children or your four hour commute is grinding you down, approach your boss with a sound business case and a flexible future could be in store for you.
* IRS (xpertHR Group) flexible working survey 2009: availability, take-up and impact
** Work Foundation, Changing Demographics