Right to request flexible working
Employees are increasingly taking on a greater number of responsibilities and demands both inside and outside of the workplace, while employers need to keep a skilled and productive workforce.
In 2007 legislation came into force which gave carers of adults the right to request flexible working from their employers. A right to request flexible working was first introduced in 2003 for parents of children under six years of age (or under 18 for a disabled child). It is not an absolute right to work flexibly but does require employers to consider requests seriously.
Flexible working success
This proved a great success for parents and by 2006, 47% of new mothers now working flexibly since the introduction of this legislation compared to 17% in 2002. In addition the number of new fathers working flexibly had tripled (Carers UK). Building on this success the law was extended in April 2009 to include parents of children under 17 years of age (under 18 for parents of a disabled child).
Strong case for flexible carers
Currently, more than three million people in the UK, one in seven of the workforce, juggle the responsibilities of caring and work. This can be extremely stressful and not surprising that in the past, one in five carers would have given up work to care full-time. It is likely that many of these employees would have been your most valuable staff, the 40+ year olds at the peak of their careers. Therefore there is a strong business case for introducing flexible working. By recognising the special needs of carers, you can hold on to your experienced staff and avoid the costs of recruitment and training. Other Benefits can also include higher staff morale, improved future recruitment, improved company image, greater productivity and lower absenteeism.
Flexible Benefits package
Businesses can take simple and effective action to help carers fulfil their caring duties and as a result retain the services of valued employees. Flexible working practices can really help a carer cope with work and caring commitments.
Having a flexible Benefits package enabling employees to select the most useful Benefits for their individual circumstances, such as disability/healthcare insurance and care vouchers, can be a helpful initiative. Emergency leave is important to carers, who can be called home at short notice when care arrangements break down.
Other useful leave arrangements include compassionate leave or a system of planned leave, for example, to provide nursing care following discharge from hospital. Paid leave for emergency or planned caring can cut staff turnover, absence and employment costs. The evidence from employers themselves shows that it is rarely abused and increases peoples loyalty and commitment.
Introducing a flexible working policy
The flexible working law was designed to support carers in employment but creating such a supportive environment within the workplace requires the endorsement of all levels of management.
There are a number of relatively simple measures that HR teams and managers should bear in mind when introducing a flexible working policy:
View introducing a flexible working policy as a cultural change; not just about enforcing rules but more instilling values and principals.
Communicate your flexible working policy with your workforce for example by using the companys intranet to publish policies.
Further support could be offered by providing an employee assistance programme and by facilitating an in-house carer networking group.
BT leads the way in flexible working
It can take a while for a significant change in working patterns to become established. You might be at one of many stages going towards integrating a culture of flexible working hours into your business: you may be just at the beginning or you may already have a flexible working environment and be looking to extend it beyond your current arrangements.
One company that is leading the way is BT: three quarters of BTs 100,000 employees now work flexibly and all staff are entitled to flexible working hours within operational parameters. These kinds of changes have been judged as highly successful by the companies that have employed them, showing that it is in the best interests of other organisations to follow where companies like BT have lead.