Flexible friends

In 2003 an employee’s right to ask for flexible working to care for children under six or disabled children under 18 became law. In April 2004 the Government increased this provision to include carers of the elderly. How are companies and HR departments coping with these changes? Four UK employers tell us how they are handling the changes. 

Adam Ellis
Performance and effectiveness capability manager, Diageo

We have been promoting flexible working for nearly three years. It’s not just a case of family-friendly policies, we include everyone, regardless of whether they have children or elderly parents to consider.

We encourage all our staff at all levels to work from home. We have invested a lot in technology so this is possible. Everyone has laptops, phone hook diverters and mobiles.

Two and a half years ago our building usage was nearly 80 per cent, everyone had a desk and worked in the office. Now 53 per cent is being used flexibly. Our head office has compacted from two buildings to one, which has saved us millions of pounds. Flexible working and flexible time off promotes a much less rigid approach to work.

Explaining the philosophy and policy to line managers took some time. If you change the space you change the way people work and there are lots of things the staff have to get used to.

I would suggest that a company considering be more flexible should only do it wholeheartedly. You have to think it right through and readily engage with the whole concept. If you just tinker you will have lots of staff niggles.

Kerry Holden
Colleague relations executive, Asda

All 130,000 staff at Asda have been benefiting from flexi-working for many years.

We’ve had to be smart about flexible working, not least because more than half our staff are part-time. We were the first retailer to offer unpaid fertility leave for people undertaking treatment.

We offer Benidorm leave to older workers who want to holiday in the winter;  parents can take time off in the summer holidays and continue to maintain benefits; and colleagues who have worked for the company for more than five years can take the option of a career break of up to two years.

The extension of flexible working to include those with elderly to care for is something we have already taken into consideration and offered to colleagues for a number of years.

Applicants’ wishes are granted wherever possible, taking into account colleagues’ needs and balancing with operational requirements.

John Emmerson
Director of talent call centre, C J Garland

We have a difficult time responding to our staff’s shift needs because we are not a 9-5 operation but operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our scheduling is tied to the needs of our clients, which include Freeserve and Virgin Mobile.

We can respond to requests for alternations in arrival and departure by staff provided that it is regular. We can’t do one shift one week and another the next.

We use workforce management software, and we hope in the near future to adapt it so that staff will be able to self-schedule, which will make flexible working much easier for everyone.

Our founder, Chey Garland, has always focussed on people and the importance of a work/life balance. Her thesis is that a good service can only be provided by a good team that is equipped as well as possible to do the job.

Elaine Mahoney
Group human resources manager, Lloyds market insurer Amlin

When we looked at flexible learning, which limited it to parents with children under six, we decided we would have to apply it to everyone. We have had 24 applications in the past year out of 580 staff.

We did publicise it but some staff without children thought it wasn’t for them. Seventy-five per cent of the applications were from parents with children under the age of six.

We launched a benefits package in January that highlighted flexi-working and more people have applied.

We turned down only two applications. One gentleman wanted to work a 35-hour week in four days, but because it was a telephone-based job he would not be there on Friday to pick up calls and his colleagues would have to cover for him.

We had a man who was getting divorced and needed time to look after his children. But later he came back to change times as he had organised child care.

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