A business owner’s view on flexible working legislation

Ben Wilson of e-cigarette company Freshcig gives his opinion on the new laws to enable more consideration of flexible working patterns.

The government has been making a number of major employment changes recently as it looks to support better working conditions for employees, but do they help business owners?

The right to request flexible working hours after six months employment, whether you are a parent or not, was announced as a new form of legislation for businesses this week. It’s an interesting proposition and something which many businesses already offer. At Freshcig, we don’t offer them as it wouldn’t be viable for our business. Our office hours are 9 am to 5 pm but we do allow flexible elements, for example if an employee wishes to have the occasional half day on a Friday then they can carry out those extra four hours across the course of the week prior to this.

See also: What sort of contract will I need if I want to employ staff on a flexible basis?

It’s not necessarily going to be hugely welcomed. Many business owners will be sceptical and I can understand why some businesses may be hesitant. One area where I can see the potential for problems is staff morale. It could be damaged if one employee is given flexible working hours and another is not, which is more likely to happen if they have different roles such as in customer service or a potentially more flexible role such as an in-house developer. This has also been considered by the Federation of Small Business, with National Chairman John Allan commenting, ‘Because of the nature of these businesses, there may be occasions where employers have to turn down a request, potentially leaving the staff member unhappy’.

Another thing for businesses to be mindful of is that it would be difficult to grant flexible working hours and then take them away if they didn’t feel it was effective for the company afterwards. For many businesses, flexible working has been a point of difference for employees, with many choosing to implement them over the years. At first it was considered ‘new age’ and fashionable, then it became more popular and now that it’s compulsory to consider each employees case it makes it a more level playing field for businesses wanting to hire talented staff who require this – without them necessarily realising it.

In an ideal world, if all SME employees could be offered flexible working hours I’m sure it has the potential to improve staff morale, staff retention rates and productivity however, it could also cause problems in terms of managing employees. For business owners in particular, keeping track of employees who may be working over different time frames will mean that they have to become more flexible whilst already being strapped for time. There will probably be additional costs in terms of portable work equipment such as a laptop which was not deemed necessary before, and logging and monitoring working hours could also prove to be an additional cost.

Whether you choose to introduce flexible working hours or not, it’s going to mean that a HR function becomes even more important and if you are challenged over any decisions then your solicitor may also become more important too. Be mindful that other employee benefits will have to be considered to maintain a happy and productive workforce if you can’t service the concept.

Further reading on flexible working:

Clear guidelines on the new legislation are available here.

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