Selling to the sceptics

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first_imgRelated posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Selling to the scepticsOn 1 Mar 2003 in Personnel Today Are Britain’s HR managers ready to implement the new right to requestflexible working? Compiled by Phil BoucherLaurence Collins, general manager, lifeworks, CentrefileFlexible working is the latest piece of employment legislation to loomominously over the heads of UK employers. From 6 April, employers will have astatutory responsibility to consider requests from employees who want to maketheir employment more flexible. Principally, this will involve varying theemployee’s hours or place of work so that they are better able to care for achild under the age of six or a disabled child under 18. In some companies, this may precipitate a cry of ‘that’s unreasonable!’ tobounce around the walls of the boardroom. Particularly if the board believesthe firm’s competitive edge will be undermined by the changes this brings toworking practices. Not for the first time, HR will find itself in the unenviable position ofhaving to champion a cause unlikely to be welcomed with open arms by anyoneother than its target audience – parents. Indeed, it may well cause envy andresentment among the majority who are not eligible. But despite the hauntingfamiliarity of having to sell a people issue to a sceptical management, HRseems to have no option but to pick up the gauntlet if it wishes to becompliant. To succeed, HR must focus on communicating with line management. Let themknow that new legislation is on its way. Inform them it is only a right torequest, rather than a right to be given, a flexible working arrangement. And,that if it is used effectively, the new law could have a positive impact onorganisational performance. HR professionals will also have to equip managers with the skills, systemsand processes needed to evaluate workers’ requests. Too many firms currentlytackle flexible working requests on an hoc basis, usually as a result of the”I’m thinking of leaving unless…” conversation. Obviously, this addslittle from a strategic perspective. Therefore, the real HR challenge is to develop a flexible working strategythat brings employees to a state of compliance and adds to a company’scompetitiveness. And given the increasing demand from the workforce for greaterflexibility and work-life balance, HR should seize this as a golden opportunityto challenge dated perceptions around work design and working patterns. The key to making this transition is to create desirable flexible workingoptions, and introduce a robust, business-oriented process that provides aframework for considering requests in a fair manner. But all this comes with ahealth warning: if line managers don’t have the competence to manage a flexibleworking system, the boardroom fears of a negative impact will be realised.GeraldDawson, principal personnel consultant, RebusHRAswith all new legislation, HR’s first job is to ensure it fully understands thecontent and the new requirements it will place on the employer and employees.For HR staff in organisations that have already adopted family-friendlyinitiatives, the implications may be minimal and restricted to some fine-tuningof existing policies and procedures. Those that aren’t should sit down andthrash out some new policies and procedures. Butbefore these are compiled, it is essential that HR fully understands thebenefits flexible working can bring. It will then have to think about how itcan sell these benefits to senior management, who will understandably want toretain their current working practices. Similarly, employees need to understandthere is no legal entitlement to have their request automatically agreed.RoyBarton, director, RightCouttsThisis an ideal time for employers to consider the wider aspects of work-lifebalance, the needs of employees and the positive enhancements that can beobtained by embedding this within company culture. Thereare a growing number of employees with care responsibilities, and a greaterproportion of working women. And over recent years, there has also been amarked change in attitude away from total dedication to the workplace. Recentsurveys have shown that many employees would prefer to have more work-lifebalance than a salary increase.Thislegislation provides an opportunity for employers to bring bottom line benefitsto a firm through a creative set of flexible policies. Work carried out byRightCoutts with various private and public sector organisations has shown thatthis brings dramatic improvements in retention, absence levels and morale.ShirleyBorrett, HR consultant, TPS ConsultingHRcould find itself in the front line of dealing with disgruntled employees oncethis legislation takes effect. Those with older children, people with elderlyparents or other caring responsibilities, or those who just have otherinterests they would like to fit into their lives, may feel resentment thattheir employer won’t consider flexible working for them too.Ifa good work-life balance is beneficial to businesses as well as employees, andgovernment funding of the DTI WLB Challenge Fund seems to indicate that itthinks it is, why would an organisation restrict flexible working to justparents of young children? Aflexible working scheme open to all, and based on the construction of abusiness case, is likely to lead to better recruitment and retention of valuedemployees. It will also reduce discontent among non-parents.CarolineWaters, director of people networks, BTThelegislation will put employers under a duty to consider requests for flexibleworking – including alternative working patterns, term-time working orannualised hours. It may also include requests to work from home.BT’sexisting policy already provides a range of flexible working solutions for itsstaff and at best, the new legislation simply formalises these arrangements. BThas embraced flexibility as a real means of enhancing the bottom line and canprove it works – its 6,000-plus home workers have sustained an averageproductivity increase of 20 per cent while saving BT £45m a year in real estateand business efficiency savings. Thishas been possible by the creation of an agile and inclusive business culturethat promotes flexibility to everyone on business rationale, rather thanindividual status.last_img

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