What are the rules on flexible working?

    • Previously only parents of children under 17 (or 18 if the child is disabled) or carers for dependant adults had the right to request flexible working arrangements from their employers. With the new legislation the same entitlement now applies to all employees, providing they have worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks [1, 2].

      However, it’s important to be aware that, just as before for parents and carers, the new legislation only enables employees to make a request. It does not require employers to grant it, though they must have a sound business reason for rejecting a request.

      How might enabling staff to work flexibly benefit employers and businesses?

      Enabling employees to work flexibly can offer great advantages to businesses. From a practical point of view, flexible arrangements such as remote working can decrease overheads and the need for office space, positively affecting operating costs.

      Perhaps more importantly, flexible arrangements can help retain valuable staff (who otherwise might be forced to leave for practical reasons) as well as attracting a wider talent pool of people who may not have considered working for the company otherwise.

      Flexible working patterns can also enable businesses to operate during extended working hours, with staff available to help clients and consumers outside conventional ‘9 to 5’ working hours.

      Similarly, offering more choice about the times of day that staff are required to work can enable employers to tap into the most productive time of their employees' day. In the case of people working across different time zones, flexibility can also enable employers to recover work-related loss of sleep, thus helping to preserve employee wellbeing.

      Employers offering flexible working arrangements are likely to see an increase in productivity, engagement and commitment from employees who are given more control of their working life and style of working [3].

      Ultimately, accomodating for flexible working needs should make for a happier workforce and, in turn, make for a more productive workplace.

      Are there any potential disadvantages for the health and wellbeing of workers?

      Managers need to be mindful that flexible working could mean their staff do not stop working. Removing the need to physically leave the workplace at the end of the day/shift can tempt workers into working overtime, which managers may not be aware of when their staff are working remotely. Flexible working may also increase presenteeism (working when unwell but not at full capacity), with employees who are working from home carrying on working when they could, reasonably, have taken a day’s sick leave. Managers should therefore monitor the time-keeping of employees who are working remotely and ensure that suitable boundaries between working time and non-working time are put in place.

      Working from home may mean that employees miss out on important social benefits that come from working and interacting with colleagues. It is therefore important to invite them to company events and briefings and, if practicable, make provision to include them via remote media if it is not possible for them to attend. There is also a possibility that workers based remotely may feel more isolated in general and may communicate less with their managers. As a consequence managers may be less able to identify potential issues developing with employees’ health, such as mental illness. This can be more challenging for managers who might already struggle with addressing issues of wellbeing with other members of their team.

      Where can employers seek guidance on the right to request flexible working?

      Acas has produced a short code of practice to help employers understand the extension of the right and how to process requests, which can be found on its website [4].

    • Sources

      [1] Flexible working, by Doug Pyper. House of Commons Standard Note SN01086, 03 June 2014.

      [2] Flexible working rights extended to more than 20 million, GOV.UK, 30 June 2014.

      [3] Optimised flexible working could add £billions to UK economy, RSA and Vodafone UK, 15 July 2013.

      [4] The right to request flexible working, Acas, June 2014.

    • Dr Mark Winwood

      Viewpoint by Dr Mark Winwood, Clinical Director for Psychological Health for AXA PPP healthcare's Health Services division

      Mark holds Associate Fellowship and Chartership with the British Psychological Society, he is registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and is a chartered Scientist.

      Mark joined the medical services of AXA PPP healthcare in June 2008 and was previously Clinical Director for AXA PPP healthcare Employee Support for over 10 years.

      Prior to joining AXA Mark worked as a Senior Psychologist in the NHS and has many years of clinical experience and research expertise. He is an active member of the EAPA, BPS and BACP - Workplace. He maintains a private practice as a Psychologist in London.