How to successfully offer flexible working

Sheila Attwood explains how organisations can introduce a flexible working policy that benefits both employees and the business

Flexible working is increasingly in demand. Businesses that don’t currently have a robust flexible working policy may be missing out on opportunities to improve employee retention and increase engagement.

Research from XpertHR revealed that almost all organisations offer some sort of flexible working arrangements, such as variable start and finish times, or job sharing.

But introducing flexible working can be a challenge. Operational difficulties, additional pressure on other workers and a detrimental impact on customer service are just some of the issues organisations can face.

There can also be resistance from managers, discontent from workers not included in flexible working, work scheduling difficulties and additional costs to consider. It is therefore crucial that flexible working is introduced and managed properly to be a success.

Preparing an effective flexible working policy

The first steps are to consult employees and managers about the potential demand for flexible working, the possible drawbacks and barriers and the types of flexible working employees and managers would favour. This will form the basis of the business case. 

The consultation offers the chance to gain the feedback of those who will be affected by any change in working practices and to obtain their buy-in to the change process itself. It’s also important this is backed by the senior management team and chief executive so it is taken seriously. 

Employers should set up an interdisciplinary project team to canvas views and suggestions, analyse the feedback, consider other employers' experiences of flexible working and develop a draft business case to test the suitability of flexible working for the organisation. It can then recommend a course of action to senior management and/or the board. 

In drafting a flexible working policy, the project team should begin by detailing the types of flexible working that will be offered such as part-time, flexi-time, variable hours, self-rostering, job-sharing and shift-swapping. Career breaks and sabbaticals should also be considered. 

It’s good practice for flexible working to be open to all employees and managers on the same terms and to be open to the workforce as a whole, not only employees who have worked for the employer for six months (as with the statutory right to request flexible working).

It’s also important that decisions about whether or not to grant requests are based on an objective assessment of the business case and no information is sought about the reasons why individuals wish to move to flexible working.

Training and support for line managers is particularly important if a scheme is to be successful. First line and middle managers can make or break the initiative as they have considerable influence over the organisation's culture and will be responsible for making any flexible working arrangements work day to day.

Their early involvement is likely not only to help produce a workable arrangement but also to assist in gaining their buy-in to the flexible working concept. Employers should ensure that the potential business benefits are communicated and understood. 

They will also need to acknowledge that practical difficulties will have to be overcome and ensure all managers are given a good grounding in people management skills.

Flexible working can bring many benefits including reducing skills shortages and improving engagement and retention. However, it is essential that the flexible working policy is well thought through and backed by managers and the board to ensure success.

An example flexible working policy from XpertHR can be found here.

Sheila Attwood is managing editor for pay and practice at XpertHR