On the 30th June 2014, changes in government legislation came into force that granted the majority of employees the opportunity to request flexible working hours.
What has changed?
Previously, the law stated that only those who were carers or had children under the age of 16 were allowed to request flexible working hours. With the changes, all employees are now able to make a request, as long as they have worked for the employer for at least 26 weeks and have not made such a request in the previous 12 months.
This change in legislation has been seen by many as an improvement, and an answer to a public call for changes to the previously outdated system.
However, in a sense, the changes seem unnecessary, as the majority of employers have previously offered some form of flexibility for their employees. Therefore, the small improvement that employees gain from the new legislation is far outweighed by the negative impacts.
Negative impacts for the employers?
One of the main issues still plaguing companies is their recovery from the recession. Employers have had to make drastic changes to support the balance between manpower and workload. It is a concern for employers that the changes to flexible working legislation will result in a more unstructured workforce that could be detrimental to other employees by increasing their workload. This is not only a concern for the employer, but the whole company who will face a shift in dynamics.
It is argued that flexible working does benefit companies, and this is evidenced in large businesses that already have in place structures to deal with these needs. It is less beneficial to small companies that, in accordance with the refusal reasons stated by Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), are unable to grant flexible working hours.
The refusal to grant flexible hours will have repercussions, especially for small businesses. It is likely to create a negative atmosphere within the business. In addition, a refusal could also lead to an appeal, greatly increasing the burden on administration, as each request and/or appeal will take time and care to process.
Another concern with regards to the legislation changes is the requirement that an employee only has to be employed for 26 weeks before being able to submit a request. This is a very short amount of time and arguably, it is unfair to expect an employer to grant flexible hours to someone who has not long worked for the business. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is a very short amount of time for an employee to fully understand and feel comfortable with the work they are doing. Secondly, granting flexible hours may take the employee out of the normal working environment, potentially making it more difficult for them to manage their workload or interact with colleagues. This not only affects the employee, but also the overall functioning of the business and the general workload of others in the company. This is more of a concern for smaller businesses that are not as well equipped as larger businesses are when dealing with these situations. The legislation does little to recognise this.
Are these impacts justified?
There are clearly many drawbacks to flexible working in the eyes of the employer, however, the question is whether these impacts are justified, or even outweigh the benefits.
Employers could take advantage of the changes. It allows them to draft in employees who are simply unable to conform to a rigid nine-to-five structure, but are able to excel working flexible hours. This would provide more choice when hiring, thus ensuring that the best candidates are chosen, ultimately promoting the success of the business and even potentially the economy.
It is acknowledged that flexible working does create organisational and structural problems within a business, but it is possible for employers to take steps to address this and maximize the potential of flexible workers within their companies. It would perhaps be unrealistic to assume that in such a modern age, both economically and socially, that commercial success is dependent on a uniform working week.
The overall impact
It is clear that there are benefits to the new legislation and it is a step forward for employees. However, the benefits of flexible working are less favourable to employers of small businesses. Whereas larger businesses are able to cope, and even take advantage of employees more suited to flexible working, it is likely to be detrimental to smaller employers, burdening admin, weakening their structure and putting off employees who would rather work flexible hours.