Wednesday 16 September 2015 11:37 am

Flexible working may be on the up but we’re not there yet

It’s great that more men and women in the City are working flexibly.  But could more work be done flexibly? Employers who are still blocking flexible working requests are missing a trick or two.

Since June 2014 all employees with at least 26 weeks’ employment can make flexible working requests under a specific procedure. Employers must deal with the applications in a reasonable manner.

Any request that is accepted will make a permanent change to the employee’s contract of employment – but temporary changes can also be agreed. Employers can refuse a request on one or more of the following reasons: the burden of additional costs; detrimental effect on ability to reorganise work among existing staff; inability to recruit additional staff; detrimental impact on quality; detrimental impact on performance; insufficiency of work for the periods the employee proposes to work; or planned structural changes.

You see there’s plenty of scope for considering employees’ wishes and then, politely, refusing. But would granting them be such a big deal? 

Yes, there are occasions when roles, particularly, customer-facing ones, require presence in the office. It’s true, too, that a lot of thought needs to go into issues such as management, supervision, delegation and communication.

These are not, however, insurmountable problems to overcome. 

Technology makes remote working, for example, so much easier to set up.  4G-enabled devices or cloud-based software and services enable employees to work away from the office and wherever they choose.

The real thing is that offering flexible working allows the employer to attract and retain valuable employees that it would otherwise miss out on, or lose to another, more flexible, competitor. Employers may be slow to grasp that the ability to work flexibly is often a major selling point. On top of that, flexible working can save employers on office space costs.

It’s really a mind-set problem. City bosses, traditionally managing within hierarchical structures, have been afraid, dare I say it, of losing power and losing control of their staff.

There is a cultural shift away from these perceptions but there still needs to be more focus on outputs and outcomes rather than inputs and hours worked.

Until there are a few more job adverts offering the option of flexibility, I shall not rest my case.