As the right to request flexible working is extended to all employees, Asda’s Hayley Tatum explains why organisations should welcome the change and why flexible working at the supermarket is an integral part of its people strategy.
Today marks a big milestone for employers in opening up flexible working to the entire UK workforce. The introduction of the Children and Families Act means that anyone who has worked at an organisation for more than 26 weeks will have the right to request flexible working – a positive step in addressing work-life balance.
Flexible working resources
Until now, flexible working has been perceived by some as a privilege only reserved for certain employees – mainly working mums. But from 30 June 2014 this flexibility is extended to all, essentially allowing employees the chance to better shape their working week around other commitments in their life.
To me the extension of the right to request flexible working signifies a progressive move in the right direction. However, up until now many businesses have been slow to embrace flexible working practices. In fact, according to Asda’s Mumdex research, even mothers, who have been entitled to request flexible working for a long time now, are still calling for greater flexibility.
Our study found that 56% of young mums are desperate for more flexibility at work. One mum told us that her employer would only allow her to work flexibly if she dropped two pay scales, while another said she had no option but to become self-employed.
This makes for uncomfortable reading when considering how employers will respond to the new Act, and raises questions around how long it will take for flexible working for all to become the accepted norm in every workplace across the UK.
How can companies embrace flexible working easily, and what are the business benefits?
Flexible working has always been an integral part of our business and open to every single one of our 170,000 colleagues. The new Act simply cements what is business as usual for us. We make flexible working a priority because it makes business sense. At the end of the day, if our employees are happy, we know our customers will be too.
Being a flexible employer is about continuously listening to your staff, keeping abreast of the changing demands of modern working life and developing new and innovative polices. These things together ensure that individuals have a good work-life balance, which, in turn, helps to keep them motivated and engaged while they are at work.
A recent study by the Institute of Leadership and Management found that 82% of managers reported an improvement in productivity, commitment and retention when flexible working practices were introduced, while 63% of managers said flexible working helped their organisation to better respond to customer needs.
What flexible working also allows many employees to do is take on training and education that they would not otherwise have time for. In fact, a significant number of colleagues who request flexible working do so because they want to learn new skills. Bringing new skills to any business can only be a positive thing – so what do employers need to do to fully embrace flexible working?
Flexible working is about realising that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work for everyone. People’s circumstances vary; what works for one colleague may not be right for the other. What employers need to do is take time to listen to their employees and understand their situation. It is not a tick-box exercise either; life changes and so do people’s circumstances. It is therefore important to talk to staff and regularly review and update policies to reflect changes.
Employers also need to remain open to a wide variety of flexible working requests. Whether it is part-time working, shift swaps or simply extra time outside of annual holidays for important events such as school plays or family events – flexibility where it can be accommodated will pay long-term dividends.
Asda recognises that there is more to life than work. We believe that supporting colleagues to achieve a good work-life balance in whatever way best meets their individual needs and circumstances will lead to a happier and more productive workforce in the long run. The new Act marks an important milestone for the UK workforce and I hope that it will encourage many more businesses to fully embrace flexibility.