The general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Frances O’Grady, used her speech at the organisation’s 150thannual gathering to state that a four-day-week is a realistic goal for most people by the end of this century.
She said that evolving technology and communications should lead to a cut in the number of hours spent at work, comparing with how unions successfully lobbied for an eight-hour working day in the 19thcentury and two-day weekends and paid holidays in the 20th.
That’s a long way off, but it’s possible today for employees to work hours that provide a better work-life balance.
Flexible working allows employees to have flexible start and finish times, or work from home. It’s a legal right that all employees have if they have worked for an organisation for the required length of service.
Employers should actively embrace and encourage flexible working amongst their workforce, as it can have significant advantages for them too. These include:
A larger pool of candidates when recruiting
Retaining talented employees
Better company image
Being able to provide service to customers outside of office hours
Many of the above also contribute to overall employee engagement.
Develop a flexible working policy
The first step to embracing flexible working is by developing a relevant policy. It should include the options available to employees, where they can find more information, and set out how they can request a flexible working arrangement.
The fact that all employees have the legal right to work flexibly should be made clear. In addition, it should explain that flexible working is encouraged by the organisation and that anyone who applies won’t be treated less favourably than colleagues choosing to work more traditional hours.
The policy should be communicated to employees. This could be by email, with a simple message letting them know where it can be found, such as in a revised Employee Handbook.
Even better, employee representatives could be involved during the creation of the policy to see what’s important to them. They’ll know better than most the challenges relating to working hours and maintaining a work-life balance.
Once a flexible working policy is established, employers need to trust that employees will use it responsibly. This is key to avoiding a culture of ‘presenteeism’, where employers place more value in whether employees are visible in the office rather than how productive they are.
Handle requests reasonably
Employers should become familiar with the procedure for dealing with flexible working requests. They should know what is required from employees when they make a request in writing, and what the qualifying period is before they can make a request.
Acas advise that employers handle requests in a ‘reasonable manner’. Example of handling requests in a reasonable manner include:
Assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the application
Holding a meeting to discuss the request with the employee
Offering an appeal process