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New rights allow British employees to demand flexible hours

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From today, millions of employees in Britain have the right to request flexible hours and working from home options under new measures from the Government.

Previously, this right was only available to carers and those who look after children, but from June 30th this has been extended to cover all employees (who have worked in their current job for 26 weeks or more) who need help balancing their professional and personal lives.

The changes are specifically meant to benefit older workers approaching retirement and younger staff members who wish to be free to take on additional training or learning, and/or look after their family.

The different types of flexible working employers are encouraged to consider include job sharing, working from home, part-time, compressed hours, flexi-time, annualised hours, staggered hours and phased retirement.

But the big question is, will it work?

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the right for employees to request flexible working will help business “keep their top talent so that they can grow”.

“Today is a crucial milestone in how we can help people balance their family life with work and caring responsibilities, and from next year, shared parental leave will allow mums and dads to be able to choose how they care for their new-born in those first precious months,” he said.

But the new rules aren’t without its fair share of critics

Some employment lawyers worry about the new rules leading to resentment among employees, where some staff members might get their requested flexi-time approved while others don’t. Companies still have the right to refuse a request if there is a valid business reason, meaning it’s possible those without children, for example, would be required to work full hours over those with dependents.

Companies are also concerned about the additional stress these rules will place on managers and the employers themselves, who might find themselves in the tricky situation of deciding who gets what, which could cause “significant confusion”.

The new regulations are a positive step towards recognising the needs of the modern workforce, but HR leaders and employers are going to have to spend a decent amount of time ensuring they have a solid framework in place for dealing with requests.

Personally – and whether your company anywhere in the world offers flexible working or not – I think the best way for employers to deal with these requests is by assuming you will say yes. This way, you open yourself and your business up to a better way of working.

However, it’s important to lay a few ground rules first:

Get the full story from the employee: They should be able to bring forward a solid case about why flexible hours will benefit the business, and how they will manage the change in workflow with their team and colleagues.

Make a decision based on business factors, not your own opinion or unlawful discrimination: This is not a personal decision on your part, it’s about what’s best for your company and your overall goals.

Make the decision quickly: Mandate an agreed-upon amount of time to get back to the employee with your decision. Like employees are required to come forward with business reasons why they should be allowed flexible hours, so should you respond with a business case to back up why their request isn’t approved, if that is the case.

Ensure they can appeal: The open environment of trust won’t work if your staff aren’t able to formally appeal and have their case heard fairly.

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