Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Flexible Work For All

Yesterday the UK press were covering the issue of extending the legal right to request flexible working to all employees. Beverley Hughes, the Minister for Children, was suggesting changes to reflect the growing demand of people to be able to work flexibly. Her proposal is that all jobs be advertised as possible part-time or flexitime positions, unless there is a sound business case not to.

This raised objections both from the CBI representing large businesses and the Federation of Small Businesses. They are arguing that "The needs of business have got to be respected” and are making tha assumption that it is good business practice to continue with the current situation or to introduce the right for all empoloyees over a much longer period.

At present carers for young children have the right to ask if they can work flexibly, they have no right to actually get it if the employer states that it is bad for business. This right extends to other carers (eg people with elderly parents) in April.

So at the moment employers who implement the minimum legal requirement are effectively saying that they give a right to employees who are carers but not to others. So they are discriminating against people who don't have children or other dependents. They have taken the view that caring is a more valuable use of their employees personal time than say working for a charity and are prepared to adapt working practices to fit in with some employees lives and not others.

If the employee has to show that their job can still be done with a different pattern of work then why would't every employer offer this to every employee? Instead of having a division between carers and others why not give all employees the opportunity to work flexibly? By definition it will only be done in the job doesn't suffer, and the employer can define and monitor this. In fact employees who work flexibly have a better work-life balance, are less stressed and more productive than those forced to work fixed patterns. So this is a WIN-WIN, for employer and employee.

Because the Government has introduced legislation as 'Family Friendly', they have convinced business that this is good for employees and bad for business. Actually it should be introduced as 'Business Friendly' since it is a sensible way to maximise the productivity of human resources.

The suggestion that the right to request should be introduced slowly is not sensible. In any organsation there is a limit to the flexibility available for employees without the business suffering. If the first people in the queue take up the available options then the people further back will be left with little choice. It is good business sense to offer all employees the right to request now and not wait to be forced by some future legislation.