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Managing flexible work

Deciding what's right for you and your staff

In the past, flexible working was viewed as a 'staff perk' reserved for people in big companies. But now all businesses - including small ones - are required by law to seriously consider flexible-working arrangements for employees with children.

Working practices from job-shares and annualised hours to home-working and shift-swapping are all types of flexible working. Whatever form it takes, many businesses are recognising that allowing all staff - not just parents - to achieve a better work-life balance can bring real benefits such as greater employee loyalty, increased productivity and reduced absenteeism.

'In many ways it's a more challenging way of managing,' says Alex Kidd, workforce development manager at Business Link Somerset. 'Too many employers take an attendance-based view of the workforce rather than looking at their employees' output and the challenges and opportunities which flexible working may offer.'

Business needs

To bring flexible working into your workplace, first review your business's requirements - starting with your customers' needs - and consider the implications of these requirements for your people. You can then talk to employees about their hours of work. This might be done through interviews or open discussions, or more formal, anonymous means such as questionnaires or by using a third party.

'It's about looking at the needs of the business and the needs of people and dovetailing the two,' says Dawn Jones, workforce development manager at Business Link Kent. Must all staff start work at the same time? What back-up arrangements could provide cover? Can some people work from home some of the time?

Consider how you expect your business to develop. Remember, too, that just because a business practice has been established for some time, it need not be set in stone.

A flexible working process

Establish a process enabling employees to apply to work flexibly, publicise it and include it in contracts and your staff handbook. A written document helps you to be fair in implementing your flexible-working policy - and will sell your company to potential recruits, too.

It is a good idea to introduce changes gradually, planning them carefully and communicating them to employees. A trial period can be useful. And once flexible-working arrangements are in place, keep them under review. That way you can monitor their effect on output and adapt them when necessary to the changing needs of both staff and the business.

Key facts

Under employment legislation employers must seriously consider requests to work flexibly from parents of children under six or disabled children under 18 with at least 26 weeks' continuous service. You can, however, refuse an application if there is a clear business reason for doing so. You must follow a set procedure to deal with requests and staff can appeal against a refusal.

Nine out of ten employers found implementing work-life balance practices involved no or minimal costs, according to a DTI survey. Three-quarters of respondents said they had a more motivated and committed workforce as a result.

What next?

Read our article about Flexible working patterns and your business

Find out about flexible working rights at the DTI website

Are you based in Wales? Find out about the National Assembly for Wales' Work-Life Balance Initiative.

Find out about employment rights at Tiger, the DTI's interactive guidance site.

As a small business you can register at Business Link to receive reminders and updates about changes to employment law.

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