Flexible working: is it good for businesses?

Flexible working: is it good for businesses?

October 12, 2010 by Simon Wicks

Employer relations minister Ed Davey has announced an extension to the right to request flexible working, which will allow 288,000 more parents to have their requests to work flexible hours formally considered by their employer.

Davey has also revealed that the government is preparing a consultation on a universal right for all employees to request flexible working, saying: “We want to make sure the law better supports real families jugging work and family life, and the businesses that employ them.”

But what do small businesses think? We asked Matthew Jones (MJ), founder of Open Study College what he feels about staff having flexible working hours.

Q: How many people do you employ? Do any of them work flexibly?

MJ: “We employ 20 people and currently allow many of them to work flexibly if they wish to. It boosts staff moral and leads to a more relaxed working environment. Some of our staff commute a reasonable distance to work so we also allow people to work from home during bad weather; it’s safer for everyone and ultimately means they aren’t spending unnecessary hours travelling.”

Q: How is increasing the right to request flexible working likely to affect you?

MJ: “We run a small office so absent staff always have an effect on us. We do have to be aware of presence for time-sensitive roles, but providing our customers don’t suffer and the work gets done on time we look auspiciously at requests for flexible working from staff with or without children. Increasing the age limit will have a minimal effect on our business.”

Q: Is flexible working for all employees a good idea?

MJ: “Flexible working can be a very positive concept providing it is fair, managed and controlled. It leads to a better working environment and more motivated staff. It also makes us appear forward-thinking to our customers and suppliers. It can sometimes be a pain when trying to book meetings and ensuring staff are available, but this is a small trade-off when you consider the benefits. It can help greatly with day-to-day activities such as booking doctors’ appointments and takes the stress out of having to wait for an after-work slot.”

Q: How clear has the government been that this is a right to request, not a right to have?

MJ: “The government has been clear that flexible working is not compulsory, but whether this will filter down accurately I can’t say. But we are clear with our staff regarding what is available to them and it seems to work well.”

Q: Will having this right help to create a “fairer, family-friendly society” as Ed Davey claims?

MJ: “I believe that there’s an inherent problem with childcare and how society deals with it in the UK. While laws and guidelines have been put in place to support parents, it would seem that “childcare” by its very nature has not changed much for a long time, in terms of the hours in which children can be looked after. I would also like the government to help on the other side of the coin, too, with the children themselves, as I don’t believe an employer should be completely responsible for the entire burden of childcare.

“Unfortunately, with today’s strain on purse-strings many families find it hard not having a two-parent income when bringing up children, so we try and do what we can for our staff. It certainly won’t affect our staff here because they already receive these benefits.”

Not all business owners and managers are in favour of giving the right to request flexible working, however. Charlotte Williams of recruitment and HR company Novalign told us:

“The new law could have a negative impact on some small businesses who may feel pressured to accommodate requests for flexible working. This could result in additional and possibly unaffordable costs, inability to compensate for employees with flexible working hours and a detrimental impact on the business’ performance including failure to respond to customer demand.”

What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

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