Procurement · 27 August 2018

Is flexible working practical for small businesses?

Legally, employers have no obligation to allow flexible working

As recent studies have shown, allowing for working patterns that fall outside the traditional 9 to 5, Monday to Friday bracket can be highly beneficial for employees, helping them manage non-work commitments and feel more motivated within their jobs.

As flexible working continues to gain popularity employers may find themselves receiving increasing numbers of requests from employees to change their working hours.

This could be the cause of some concern for small business owners who feel that enabling this practice is just not feasible within their organisation.

Regardless of the size of their company, employers should bear in mind that they have a responsibility to protect the health and wellbeing of their employees and if approached correctly flexible working can be a mutually practical arrangement for both management and their staff.  

Surveys conducted by YouGov have highlighted that allowing for flexible hours helps to attract and retain talent, something that is crucial for a developing and growing company.

It can also be very useful for smaller businesses that remain open during unsociable hours, leading to a resolution that takes into the account the requirements of the company whilst also making allowances for the employee’s commitments.

Legally, employers have no obligation to allow flexible working but must consider each request submitted by employees after they have worked for the company for a minimum of 26 weeks.

Requests can be refused provided the reason for refusal falls into one of those which is legally prescribed. 

Considering flexible working may be difficult for smaller companies with limited staffing numbers simply because they do not have the same resources available as larger firms.

Small business owners may worry that if they enable one employee to work flexible hours all employees will expect the same treatment, which may not be practical for them to allow.

They may also fear that allowing for flexible working can encourage laziness, leading to lower rates of productivity and decreased profit levels.

In response, managers could feel like they need to refuse the requests in order to further assert their authority on the workforce.

Whilst this would ensure that all staff members are treated equally in response to this it is a rather simplistic solution that ignores any legitimate reasons employees may have behind their requests.

This could result in higher levels of job dissatisfaction and, ultimately, increased employee turnover.

 As such, if small businesses feel they are unable to grant these requests they should try to come to a compromise with the employee to see if their requirements can be accommodated by a different action.

Explaining with honesty the restrictions they may legitimately face is likely to make the employee more open to a compromise, if the only other outcome would be refusal.

Flexible working requests make employers consider with care the changes to working patterns which may be possible. If productivity and performance can still be maintained despite the change, then flexible working really can work for both large and small companies.

Kate Palmer is head of advisory at Peninsula HR

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Kate Palmer CIPD is the head of advisory at law firm Peninsula and is a member of its senior leadership team. She joined in 2009 having held a senior HR manager's role in another large company. With a specialist background in facilities management in the NHS, Kate offers a wealth of employment law experience. She's an expert negotiator - one notable case was with the NHS's trade unions over terms and conditions in the Agenda for Change pay system.

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