Sunday, June 29, 2014

Flexible working for all

Today is a key date in the evolution of work. In the UK there is a change to the legislation giving employees a right to request flexible working. It will now apply to all employees not just parents and carers.

You could just dismiss this as a minor change which will involve a quick revision of the appropriate HR policy. Or you might see it as a fundamental change in our assumptions about work. I think it’s the latter.

For the last 200 years we have made the assumption that work consists primarily of full time, permanent employment. Flexible working, temporary jobs, part-time working, job sharing and working from home have all been exceptions to the norm. So employees have to ask permission to work differently from the standard ‘9 to 5’ routine at their employers premises.

Then the government, in its wisdom decided to introduce some ‘family friendly’ legislation to encourage employers to at least consider that work could be done differently. This reinforced the view that flexible working was only applicable to people who had children and didn’t really apply to everyone else. So up to now it has been seen as an employee benefit along with items such as maternity leave and therefore a cost to the business.

Now we are about to enter an era when people without children or other caring responsibilities will start to ask for flexible working. It will become more acceptable for ambitious, career minded professionals to work in non-standard ways. Employers will come to realise that by giving people more choice over when and where they get the job done they will get a more effective workforce.

By giving people more freedom over how they get their job done their productivity will increase and employee turnover and absenteeism will reduce. So flexible working will move from the current situation, where it is the exception, to being the norm. This means that managers will need to develop new skills to cope with the increased variety in the way their people work. And that also provides a great opportunity for HR to guide the organizational culture and management behavior to reflect the new world of work.