Flex Working: Are You For or Against?

Last Updated Apr 6, 2009 1:07 PM EDT

From today, the UK law has changed so that any employees with children up to the age of 16 can ask for flexible working. It's a worthy move from the UK government that is bound to be applauded by labour lobby groups but
viewed with suspicion by management organisations.

With a cynical hat on, it's easy to see this as a vote-winning law put forward
by people who never do a nine-to-five day anyway and whose idea of working starts and finishes at working their own expenses claims.

That said, employers are obliged only to consider requests -- they may
reject them if there are good business reasons for doing so.

How serious this consideration has to be, and what these business reasons
are, is up for debate -- one NHS employee's already found the law "toothless" in the face of employer antipathy.

Playing devil's advocate, here are the arguments for flexible working, and some against:

Pros:

  • When workers are performing badly, it's often because there is a problem out of work. Giving people the flexibility to work hours that suit their situations can release some of the pressure they might be feeling and provide them with the time they need to sort these problems out.
  • Giving people the responsibility to set their own hours makes them more results-oriented. They should feel more valued by the business and be motivated to achieve more.
  • If handled effectively, it could allow you to reduce your operational overheads. Less people in the office at any one time means less power consumption and even the opportunity to relocate to smaller premises.
  • What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Now you will have good reason not to be in the office all of the working day too. Or, if you're already flexibly working, you can do so without fear of putting others' noses out of joint.
Cons:
  • There's more to the working day than just getting your head down. There is a social aspect to work and teams that work and play closely together generally perform better.
  • Even though communications technology has come on in leaps and bounds in the last few years, conference calls and video conferences are still no substitute for a face-to-face meeting.
  • The people who benefit most from flexible working and working from home are the sort of key people who you need to have around you to make snap decisions. It could disrupt the flow of decision making if your senior team isn't all in work-mode at the same time.
  • Not every role is suitable for flexible working. There is a danger of creating a 'haves and have-nots' situation, which is going to demotivate staff whose role requires they stay, just as much as it invigorates those who are freed up.

    What do you think? How important is flexible working in your business?

(Photo: Leonard Low, CC2.0)