Flexible working shouldn’t be feared by SMEs, says CIPD

With the government rolling out flexible working, businesses ignore the benefits at their peril, warns CIPD

Flexible working shouldn’t be feared by SMEs

Anyone who has the misfortune of traveling during rush hour would have rejoiced at the government’s new flexible working legislation, which came into force this week. Granting more freedom to employees, it could mean the days having to fight to get onto inadequate public transport may be a thing of the past.

The new law means employees who have been at a company for at least 26 weeks have the right to request flexible working arrangements. Such a right only used to apply to carers and working mothers, and with firms only allowed to refuse on solid business grounds, it seems many people’s working futures will fit around there lifestyles. 

However, whilst it may appear that the government is opening the floodgates and allowing everyone to enjoy a half day when they so wish, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) website has provided a handy list of  the ‘business reasons’ upon which companies could refuse flexibility requests. From incurring additional costs and having a negative impact on quality, to causing a shortfall when meeting customer demand and there being insufficient work available during the proposed work periods, businesses have been given enough protection to ensure the new laws keep the system fair. This will probably come as particular relief to SMEs that operate with a much smaller workforce, ensuring that they can accommodate staff requests without having to worry about it affecting their client relationships.

Given that the new law had been in the pipeline and public consciousness for a while before its implementation on Monday, you’d think most firms would be fully prepared for a sudden influx of flexible working requests. However, according to a study by PeoplePerHour, the online freelance marketplace, many SMEs are still getting up to speed with the changes. Its study found that 45% of small businesses did not know about the new law with only 12% feeling like they fully understood the legislation and their responsibilities. 

And what of those who are already fully aware of flexible working? Well, government statistics show that firms who have already adopted flexible working see a 40% increase in productivity and 38% reduction in staff absence. Furthermore, 52% of employers were worried they could miss out on top talent or see existing staff leave for competitors if they didn’t offer the perk, according to PeoplePerHour’s findings. However, 22% of those surveyed said they would have concerns about the effect that flexible working would have on their staff productivity, with 32% worried about team morale if too many members of staff worked irregular hours or away from the office. 

There are clearly arguments on both sides of the table but the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has said businesses ignore the changes at their peril. “Line managers need to be helped to understand how flexible working options can be incorporated in a way that meets business needs and therefore be raised sufficiently to maximise the upsides of a more flexible workforce,” said Susannah Clements, deputy chief executive at the CIPD. “Instead of allowing managers to see the new regulations as a threat, this change can help drive increases in productivity and competitiveness for firms and the wider economy.”

With certain members of the Elite Business team spending their mornings crouched underneath a man’s armpit on a Northern Line train, we can’t help but think that the benefits of flexible working will be keenly felt by all. Once everyone knows about them of course. 

James Dyble
James Dyble

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