The UK’s flexible future: A road to engagement and productivity
UK working laws changed on 30th June 2014, giving all UK employees with six months continuous service the legal right to request flexible working, which should be good news for employers and employees alike.
Work Wise UK have been raising awareness and raising the bar of flexible smarter working for a decade now and we are delighted that the changes have been introduced. However our feedback and some press comments suggest that some employers still believe it will negatively impact their businesses.
The benefits so often cited for flexible working (increased autonomy, engagement, commitment and productivity) are unlikely to be realised unless employers embrace the opportunity that the Government has introduced and sit down with employees to think seriously about how flexible working could improve productivity and the working lives of employees at the same time.
The new law and guidelines provide a real opportunity to start a dialogue about what would really make a difference to organisational effectiveness and create the patterns of work that could lead the way to better recruitment, retention, motivation and have a positive impact on the absence and sickness stats.
Thanks to modern technology, putting flexible working processes in place can be done both quickly and easily, but trust in transition remains a major issue. Work is something you do, not just somewhere you go and adopting a flexible culture has been proven to cut down on wasted time and cost. Trust and perceived impact on culture are the main barriers to change, not technology.
The success of any organisation lies very firmly with the leadership and management styles. The attitudes and behaviours displayed by those at the top create the culture which employees have to work with. Employees working in restrictive cultures don’t really want to leave their companies, only to leave their managers and we will see this happening more in the future if employers take a negative or restrictive view of flexible working.
We know that the best people tend to be the movers and shakers, but losing key people is always a difficult situation to recover from in this competitive world. Given the opportunities opening up in the labour market, the best employees will seek opportunities that fit better with their own lifestyles and responsibilities.
Thinking back just a short while ago, companies were scrambling to enter the world of process design, re-engineering and redesign to attempt to improve productivity. Whilst many invested heavily in change and development programmes to gain more from the value chain, fewer looked at their people skills, processes and practices and, surprise, surprise, the productivity gains were not realised.
The new flexible working agenda gives employers a real opportunity to review the way they recruit, train and develop people. The huge level of flexibility now possible, aided by technology, means employers really can think about redesign of their organisations thorough people and changing the working patterns that really will deliver results. Not just bottom line savings, but real productivity improvement and growth.
Changing the staffing profiles of our organisations and reviewing staffing flexibility will create the real dynamic in the workplace which has been missing in so many organisations. Employers now have the chance to lead the agenda and start discussing how flexible working can improve organisational effectiveness and contribute towards a more flexible productive future.
Work Wise UK’s “big driver” for business is to see an increase in productivity and we want to see flexible working move still further into the mainstream of the labour market. We really do need to improve our skills base in the UK and give people wider opportunity to develop, realise their potential.
Whilst extending the right to request to everyone, the government has removed the statutory procedure for handling a request and has replaced it with a lighter touch approach, but there is still a duty to handle requests in a reasonable manner and a statutory code of practice and guidance from ACAS on what is reasonable is there to help.
We welcome the changes in the law and hope it will bring the benefits of higher productivity that we have worked towards over many years. We stand ready to help any organisation explore the challenges of flexibility as a positive step to raising productivity and achieving greater employee engagement. Just as employers need to gain more control and predictability of their business plans and results, employees also need gain more predictability and real choice over their working lives, let’s hope that the dialogue starts and the results follow.