Flexible working promises to be back in the spotlight in the UK for much of 2015. Why? Because, from 30 June, an unprecedented number of British workers will be eligible to apply for flexible working as new regulations come into force. Employees that work for 26 weeks or more per year will be in a position to request flexible working. Employers are, in turn, obligated to consider and respond to the request in a “reasonable manner”.
This represents quite a change. Up until now, only those with children under 17 or people who cared for a dependent adult were eligible.
Flexible working essentially means having variation in your working pattern. It may take the form of working from home, working in shifts, job sharing or working part time.
Britain may well see a rush of applications for flexible working after the new legislation comes into force. A recent survey by Jobsite found that 66% of employees would ask for flexible working if they were given the chance. However, the response will depend on the publicity that the new legislation gets. In the same survey more than three in four people did not even know about the new rules.
Although the exact number of people that will apply for flexi-working as a result of the new legislation is not yet clear, the potential advantages of an employee having more control over their work patterns is firmer territory.
According to research, flexible working has some major benefits for employees. Workers can save a sizeable proportion of their wage; commuting costs, expensive lunches and, in some cases, childcare costs can be reduced if a person can work from home or choose their hours in the office.
Flexible working can also make working a more pleasant experience. People who work from home get to avoid the stresses of the daily commute. They can also choose what to wear during the working day, their working environment and how they work. In terms of the latter, being able to choose one’s exact hours of work and coffee breaks can make working a much happier experience.
Some commentators also point out that working from home is good for the environment; someone who works from home has a smaller carbon footprint.
Flexible working can also make people more productive. This is because old-fashioned working schedules are not in sync with our body’s natural rhythms. This can result in social jet lag. With flexible working, “morning” people can start and end work early and “night owls” can do the opposite. An experiment that researchers at Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Germany recently carried out seemed to corroborate this idea. Although the experiment focused on shift workers, it is easy to see how the principle is also applicable to non-shift workers. In any case, the scholars reorganised a group of shift workers’ working schedules according to their body rhythms. They were able to increase the workers’ sense of well being and reduce their social jet lag.
However, it is also clear that flexible working is not suited to everybody. Research consistently shows that people need above average levels of self organisation and self motivation. They also need to go the extra mile in terms of demonstrating their communications skills; it can be more challenging to build and maintain good business relationships and foster a sense of teamwork with colleagues if you are away from the office much of the time. 360 feedback is a good way to assess whether an individual is well suited for flexible working.