Bulley Davey: the future’s flexible

Flexible working can improve morale and lead to better productivity, argues Claire Smithee of Bulley Davey. It also may help you to recruit and retain the best staff

According to a recent survey, workers who are offered flexible working benefit their employers by taking less leave and working more productively. Flexible workers reported feeling more effective in their day and three-quarters said they’d be reluctant to leave their current place of work, if a new one didn’t allow the same flexibility. So what exactly is flexible working – is it a distant dream, or a near reality? To a lot of people the idea of being able to define your own working times and days doesn’t seem feasible. Most of us have grown up with the idea that work is a nine-to-five thing. Time and technology have gone a long way to change that. As laptops, smartphones, emails and now cloud technology have entered our lives and our workplaces, our jobs are more mobile than ever – and each generation gets a little more flexible. Allowing technology to do the heavy lifting opens up a whole world of opportunities. For example, as a parent using flexible working, it’s good to know that I can perhaps drop my children off at school – and pick them up in the afternoon sometimes too – without it impacting on my work. If there’s a special occasion I can be flexible, without having to book last-minute leave that disrupts not just my life but those of my colleagues.

Surveys increasingly show that flexible working arrangements can be good for morale and work-life balance. When people feel their employer offers them some flexibility, they are likely to be more productive and loyal to the company. It means less stress and less burn out too. It’s not just parents and carers who can benefit. All employees have the legal right to request flexible working; and employers must deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’. Maybe you want to miss out on a terrible rush-hour commute, so decide to work 8am to 4pm instead of 9 to 5? You still fulfil your contracted hours, but you remove an obstacle that might cause stress and impact your productivity. Some people and companies worry that if their clients are working nine to five then they should be too – and this is understandable. There will be some days and even some industries where flexible working may be detrimental, but technology means you’re only ever an email/call away if an emergency arises.

Employees must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible for flexible working. They may then write to the employer, who has three months to consider the advantages and disadvantages of the request and make a decision. This can be longer if agreed with the employee. If the request is accepted, the change must be reflected in the terms and conditions of the employee’s contract. If the employer disagrees they must write to the employee giving the business reasons for the refusal. They must also offer the employee an appeal process, if the employee desires to take it that route. Hopefully a decision like this wouldn’t come to blows between an employer and employee. Most of the time you will know if flexible working is feasible and appropriate, and your employer should too. However, it’s worth knowing the options available and how to initiate the process. As time goes on and technology becomes increasingly prevalent in our lives, I think we’ll see flexible working become a normality. This could be your chance to get ahead of the game!

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