Will Flexible Working Rebound On My Business?

What is flexible working?

Flexible working just means that the employer is able to accommodate a range of working arrangements.  Some people may prefer the traditional 9 to 5.30  in the workplace every day, with an hour’s break at lunchtime.  Others may prefer to arrive or leave earlier or later than those hours.  Some may prefer to work elsewhere occasionally, or regularly.  Flexible working means different things to different people.  But the more flexible you can be, the more productivity you will get from your employees.

In employment terms, flexible working might encompass a whole range of things.  These can include flexi-time, flexible working hours; working from home, either regularly or occasionally.  Or it might mean working from another location.  Flexibility for employees might include fitting round family and caring responsibilities.  For example people might want to finish early and make up hours at other times.  Or they might need to work round the school run.  It can mean they don’t need to watch the clock.  They can stop feeling guilty for arriving later or leaving earlier than colleagues.

Why is flexibility important for my business?

Allowing individuals to have flexible work arrangements which suit their needs gives them the chance to do their work when they feel most able to. This means they will be more productive.  There are other benefits for the employer, as well.  You may be able to cover a longer working day with a variety of people.  Some may prefer an early start and some want to finish late.  So you have a better chance of someone being available when your customers need your services.

Your reputation as a good employer will spread and you may find it is easier to recruit and to retain the staff you have got.  The people who work for you are likely to feel more trusted and valued and so will put in more effort for you.

You may even find that absence is reduced if people feel more able to work from home if they have a cold or upset stomach.

Recruitment as a flexible employer

Previous articles have talked about employing older workers or carers and both these groups of people will benefit from flexibility in the workplace.  Research shows that older people would be very appreciative of flexible working hours.  Working with these needs would widely increase your pool of available employees.

Beware, though, of advertising that you are an employer who offers flexibility, and then not allowing people to work flexibly.  This can be seriously detrimental to your reputation and employer brand.  If the operations of your business are such that you cannot allow flexibility, then it is far better to admit that openly.  Explain the situation to potential employees, giving the reason why.  You may lose a few candidates as a result, but the benefit is that employees will know what to expect.  So they will only accept a role if they feel suited to your environment.

How do I make flexibility work?

The most important factor in a successful employer/employee relationship is trust.  If you build a culture of trust within your business, then you will be able to introduce flexible working and know that your employees will not take advantage of you.

As managers, we often find it hard to trust our employees to get on with the work when we are not watching them.  My experience is that most people can be trusted.  If you give them that trust, they will bend over backwards to avoid taking advantage.

You need to get across the message that you trust your employees to do their job and behave like adults.  They also need to understand that the work is their responsibility and that you will judge them by the results they achieve, rather than the hours they do.  Interestingly, having the conversation and allowing them to work flexibly will increase their commitment.  They know what is good and don’t want to risk losing it.  In fact, most people work longer, and harder, when trusted to be flexible.

What if I can’t allow flexible working?

Where people request flexible working in some form or other, then try to accommodate such requests wherever possible.  This means that on the occasions when you really cannot allow some flexible working, people will understand that there is a good reason why.  If you do have to turn down such a request, then make sure the individual understands the reason why it cannot be allowed.

If you are going to give people trust and autonomy, without checking up on them, then you also need to establish regular contact.  Make sure you build in team events and training opportunities.  Arrange regular meetings (in person or otherwise).  This will prevent people feeling abandoned, unloved , forgotten or not needed.   It will also prevent them from heading off down a different work path than the one you need.

On the odd occasion you may find that someone has betrayed your trust and has not produced the required work, or has clearly been taking advantage.  In those cases,  make sure you deal promptly and strongly with the issue.  This prevents any resentment or repetition from colleagues.

Final Word

I am a great advocate of trust in the workplace.  If you want employees to flourish in your workplace, then equip them with the skills and tools they need.  Then give them the freedom (and support) to fly.  If you allow flexible working, they will return your trust in spades.  You will then find that you have a motivated, productive and happy workforce.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Can Older Workers Fill the Skills Gap?

I read a report in the HR press this week that recruiters are facing ever-increasing difficulties.  This is partly due to skills shortages and partly due to a drop in the number of migrants applying for work in UK.

Yet I have also recently been reading other articles which are about  older people in the workplace who are facing discrimination and being overlooked in favour of younger people.

Is it just me, or is there an obvious resolution to both issues?   We could give the older workers a chance to shine, instead of making the assumption that they “aren’t suitable”, “wouldn’t like it”, “are unable to change”.

The average working age is rising

The population is ageing.  People are living longer and fewer babies are being born.  So the average age of the working population is set to rise. Pension ages are rising. I know there is a great deal of debate about the rights, wrongs and fairness of this.  It is inevitable, though, for it to remain sustainable for the State to continue to pay pensions to retired people.  So people need to work longer and many want to do so anyway.

Nearly a third of the workforce in the UK are now aged 50 and over.  Additionally,  forecasts predict that one million more over-50s will enter the worforce by 2025.

So why don’t employers make use of these people who are skilled, experienced, loyal and have huge amounts to offer?

Age discrimination is rife in the workplace

My own father finished work at age 58 and could not find another job.  Yet he lived until he was 92.  He  remained active, lucid and enthusiastic right up until his death.  I am not saying he could have worked  until he was 92. But an employer could have had really good service from someone who had a very fine mind  – for at least another 15 years.  He was also able to pick up new technology and learn new ways of doing things and didn’t really slow down until he was in his late eighties. An employer’s loss was society’s gain, as he volunteered and gave great service to the local community for many years.

Of course, there are some older people who may have health issues and need adjustments or to work fewer hours.  But that is true of everyone, young or old.  We need to start viewing (and interviewing) people as individuals.  They may have issues to overcome which others do not have.  But they may also have the skills and experience you need.  If you think they “might” be suitable if they weren’t “too old”, then you should talk to them about your concerns.  Give them a try and you might get a very pleasant surprise.

What can an Employer do to improve the workplace for older workers?

Any employer can gain huge benefits from creating an age positive culture and joined-up approach to managing age-related issues in the workplace.

There are some specific management areas where your attention could be spent initially.  Areas such as recruitment; flexible working; learning and development.  But a complete overview of your policies, procedures and practices is always a useful exercise.

Recruiting  and retaining older workers

Recruitment , in particular, is an area where there is often bias towards younger candidates.  This may not be explicit – or even intentional. Careful wording of advertisements and training of recruiting managers will go some way towards helping you to remove age bias in your hiring processes.

Increased flexibility in working hours and other practices can benefit every employee, of course.  But older workers may be more likely to prefer part-time hours, in particular.  They are also more likely to be nervous of asking for flexibility as their fear of losing their job may well be greater than for others in the workplace.

Increasing skills and engagement

Many older workers may feel they are “stuck” in a role which has no interest or challenge for them.  But do you give them learning and development opportunities? If they have missed out on the opportunity to learn a new skill, but are keen and enthusiastic, then it would be sensible for an employer to help them to gain that skill.  The benefits are clear for both the employee (improved job satisfaction and engagement) and for the employer (skilled and enthusiastic worker, who is loyal and can also add life experience into the mix).

This is the tip of the iceberg and there are huge steps any employer can make to recruit and retain older workers, who will form the basis of your future workforce.   There are also enormous benefits for both the employer and their employees.

Watch this space as we will return to this issue in future articles.

In the meantime, if you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Use it or Lose It!  Why you must remind employees to use up their annual holiday entitlement

What if your employees don’t take all their holiday entitlement within the year?  Surely, they lose the right to take the holiday? In most cases, yes, they lose the right to take the holiday, but it depends on various things.  Things such as the reason why they have not taken their holiday. Or what it says in their contract of employment.

If someone has been off sick and so has not been able to take their holiday, then you should consider allowing them to carry the remaining holiday over to next year.  Similarly, if they have been on maternity leave or parental leave then they will still have built up holiday entitlement.  So they must be given the opportunity to take it, or carry it over to next year.

Additionally, you may have a clause in your contracts of employment which allows people to carry forward some of their holiday until the next holiday year.

Isn’t it a good thing for the Business if people don’t want to take all their holiday?

 You might think your business benefits from the additional work you are getting if people don’t take all of their holiday.  After all, you have to pay them anyway, so if they choose to work, rather than take their holiday, then that is surely a good thing?

You should be concerned if people are not taking holiday.  My advice would be for you to find out what the reason might be.  You may not need  to look any further than your mirror.  If you do not take all of your holiday, then you are unconsciously giving out the message that you do not expect other people to do so.

Similarly, is there is a culture in the organisation that people regularly do not take all of their holiday entitlement?  If so, then individuals may be frightened of upsetting their colleagues if they take “too much” time off – even if it is their entitlement!  We all want approval and appreciation from those around us (particularly the boss) and some people may be fearful of the consequences if they do not conform.

What about wellbeing?

 Another major consideration should be the health and wellbeing of your workforce.  People need to have regular breaks from the workplace to maintain their emotional, mental and physical health.    If they are not using all of their holiday entitlement, then they are not getting the most from their opportunities to refresh themselves.

Although it appears that you are getting “more work” from people who are not taking all of their holiday, it may well be that you are actually only getting “more presenteesim”.  They may be in the workplace more often, but will their output be of a high quality? If they are tired, stressed and in need of a break, then they are not likely to be producing their best efforts on your behalf.

But how can I make people take holiday if they don’t want to?

 Of course, you cannot force people to use up their holiday.  But you should be encouraging them to do so.

If you and your managers lead by example and ensure you use up all of your holiday, then your employees will feel comfortable in doing the same.   Make sure you use regular discussion with your employees to reinforce the message that they should be using all of their holiday each year.

Regular reminders about using holiday should be issued during the whole year. You don’t want everyone to leave their holiday until the last minute and all rush to book it in the last quarter of the year.  Regular reminders should help to manage the flow of holiday requests.

Finally, in the third quarter of the holiday year, you could send out a reminder to the whole workforce that there is only limited time to use up their holiday and that you expect them to do so.

Not my responsibility

 You may feel that it is not your job as employer to be reminding people to use up their entitlement.  You do your bit by giving them the entitlement. If they choose not to make use of that, then that is their choice.  This, of course, is true – up to a point.

However, a recent legal case in the EU reminds employers that it is their responsibility “diligently” to give the employee the opportunity to take their holiday and to remind them of their right to take it.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.