Does your school have flex appeal?

Flexible working is becoming increasingly popular in UK workplaces, so should schools be catching up with the trend?

CREDIT: This is an edited version of a guide by UNISON

In recent years the government has begun to acknowledge the importance of work-life balance issues by introducing a variety of laws to support employees. Kate Palmer is the associate director of advisory at Peninsula, who specialise in employment law. She details the current law on flexible working: “The statutory right to request flexible working is available to all employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service, and staff may use this to request changes to their working arrangements, including a reduction in hours or a move to home working.

“Flexible working requests must be made in writing and include details of the proposed changes and information on any previous requests made by the employee. After all, employees only have the right to make one request every twelve months.

“A code of practice exists to advise employers on how to handle flexible working requests in a reasonable manner. Although employers are obliged to consider any requests, there is no obligation to approve them. Employers can reject flexible working requests based on several prescribed reasons, including if the arrangements stand to have a detrimental impact on the company’s ability to meet customer demand.

“Having said this, employers should generally consider embracing flexible working opportunities where they can, as this can be a powerful tool when it comes to recruiting and retaining top talent. Such arrangements also give employees greater opportunity to achieve a positive work-life balance by arranging their workplace duties effectively around their commitments at home.”

The concept of work-life balance, of which flexible working is a part, is that if people could improve the balance between the demands of their work and the demands of their home life they would be more satisfied at work and be more productive.

Getting the balance wrong can mean health can suffer, work is less productive and relationships – both at work and home – begin to deteriorate. Apart from simply complying with the legislation, many organisations are beginning to recognise the advantages of trying to meet the demand for flexible working.

There are many different types of flexible working such as part-time working, flexitime, job sharing, compressed hours, home working, annual hours, term-time working and V time. In order to get the SLT to commit to the issue, you need to look at the business case for introducing new policies and ways of working. The bottom line for all organisations is to work within budgetary constraints. The business case for work-life balance should illustrate how things like flexible working can benefit the organisation financially and practically.

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While each school will operate slightly differently, the following advantages are commonly cited as the main reasons for promoting flexible working:

  • valued and talented workers are retained, reducing recruitment costs – for example, it can cost up to twice an annual salary to recruit skilled and semi-skilled employees and it takes time for new employees to learn the job so at first they will not be as productive
  • productivity and commitment improves – for example, British Telecom proved that productivity of flexible workers increased by 30%
  • the talent pool from which organisations recruit becomes larger – for example, people who can only work part time or non-traditional hours could well be as valuable or talented as the nine to five cohort
  • flexible working creates a more diverse workforce which helps employers who are committed to ensuring that their workforce reflects society
  • sickness absence is reduced – for example, a recent UNISON survey showed that sickness reduced from 12% to two per cent amongst those that worked flexibly

A successful way of introducing flexible working into the workplace is to start with something small scale like running a pilot which will need to be negotiated with the SLT. Piloting new initiatives in a couple of areas or teams first is often a useful way of ironing out any unexpected difficulties and dispelling some of the common anxieties about cultural change. There may already be some willing managers and teams, or there may be a more sceptical manager and team who you could win over by helping them pilot flexible working. These are some steps to follow if you’re considering running a pilot:

  • draw up a set of guiding principles or ground rules
  • agree the parameters within which the team operates
  • determine who will be affected by a change in working hours
  • devise a communications strategy
  • ensure that the team knows the work style each member intends to follow
  • arrange feedback sessions

If you think flexible working could suit you and could improve your work-life balance, there is no harm in having a conversation with the SLT and seeing if it is something you can do. The world is moving in a flexible direction, don’t be left behind if you don’t want to be!

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