A recent survey from YouGov has found that only 6% of Brits now work 9am-5pm and nearly half of those surveyed worked flexibly through job-sharing flexitime or compressed hours. The study shows that the most preferred working hours are 8am-4pm (chosen by 37% of the respondents) with another 21% saying they would prefer to start work even earlier at 7am and finish at 3pm. Londoners are an exception to this – perhaps unsurprisingly they responded that they would prefer to start work after 9am – which is likely to be related to rush hours and that many have long commutes.
Interestingly, the survey has also found that the respondents’ preferences do not seem to be connected with child care commitments. It shows that both people without children (62%) and those with adult offspring (73%) are as likely to opt in to start their work day earlier as those with
school-age children (67%).
Peter Cheese, co-chair of the government’s Flexible Working Task Force, said that the survey shows that “employers need to be receptive to employees’ needs and avoid a narrow view of what a working day looks like.” If applied properly, flexible working can be a great benefit to employers. It can reduce sickness absence and encourage loyalty and efficiency. It also allows the retention of staff who are no longer able to work their traditional hours due to changes in their personal lives.
Most employers still associate flexible working and requests for reduction of working hours with child care commitments. They forget that flexible working can take a number of other forms such as job-sharing, working from home, working compressed hours, flexitime or term-time working.
Most employees have the statutory right to request flexible working, and employers have a legal duty to consider such requests. In order to make a statutory request for flexible working, the individual must:
- be an employee (other workers are not covered by this statutory framework);
- have 26 weeks’ continuous employment at the date the request is made; and
- not have already made a request under the statutory scheme in the previous 12 months.
There are specific rules and procedures that employers need to follow once in receipt of a request for flexible working. In particular, they have an obligation to consider it in a reasonable manner, notify the employee of their decision within three months and can only refuse it on a limited number of set grounds.
However, employers can also be proactive and offer flexible working arrangements without any specific requests. Depending on the form of the arrangement they can be offered to all employees or negotiated individually, at the start or during their employment. It is important, however, that any flexible working arrangements are confirmed in writing to ensure that there is a clear record of what has been agreed and that the employer and employee have the same understanding of the arrangement.
Employers also need to remember that flexible working should be applied consistently in order to limit risks of discrimination claims. In particular, they should not treat requests from male employees differently to requests received from female employees or assume that male employees are less likely to require flexible working arrangements.