New flexible hours regulations for employees with children under 16

New regulations come in today that allow any employees with children up to the age of 16 to request flexible working hours, providing they’ve been with the company for 26 weeks plus.

Employers are obliged to “seriously consider” any application from employees who qualify and can only reject the request if there are “good business reasons for doing so” – although the definition for “good business reason” remains annoyingly vague. Flexible hours can mean working from home, working part-time, working agreed hours over fewer days, job sharing or only working during term-time.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is concerned about the changes coming at a time when employers need to make the most of every business resource they have. Its deputy director-general John Cridland said, "Although we accept the extension of the right to request flexible working, we don't think now, in a recession, is the best time to implement it.”

If you have to implement flexible hours in your workplace, the CBI previously released a leaflet on it that offers the following guidelines to make it as easy as possible:

1. Understand your business
Flexible working arrangements that work well for another business won’t necessarily work in yours. Some jobs can be done from home while in others, being there all the time is essential. Consider both what is right for your organisation and where your employees’ needs lie. How can flexible working improve the service to your customers?

2. Communicate effectively
Making your people aware of the opportunities for flexible working is vital. There’s no point having a great framework in place if people don’t know about it. Information about flexible working can be built into induction programmes, and reinforced by training. Having a clear set of organisational values can also help in selling the benefits of flexible working.

3. Define roles and responsibilities
It’s important that managers and individuals understand their responsibilities for making flexibility work. People need to see it from the organisation’s point of view as well as their own. It’s about give and take – not just individuals getting what they want. When there is a well-understood culture, teams can often sort out their own issues.

4. Try it out
You don’t have to do it all at once. If there are concerns whether flexible working is feasible, it can be helpful to have a trial period of the proposed working arrangement. But think in the longer term about the effect on others whose jobs may be more difficult to do on a flexible basis. Ask people to come up with their own ideas.

5. Make flexible working acceptable
You may have comprehensive written policies, but bringing these to life can be challenging. If you and your managers are not seen to ‘walk the talk’, flexible working won’t be taken seriously. Explaining how flexible working benefits the business as well as employees is crucial. And senior staff need to lead by example.

6. Measure and evaluate
Remember: if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. And be open to ideas for improvement. Large organisations are not always good at evaluating the effectiveness of their flexible working practices. Our research shows that small firms are perfectly capable of monitoring the impact of flexible working on business outcomes.

(Read the rest of the leaflet by clicking here.)

Today’s new regulation will mean an additional 4.5 million parents and carers are now entitled to ask for flexi-time, on top of the 6 million who were already eligible for having children under the age of six.

For many of those small businesses that will resultantly be affected, less employees in the workplace could prove to be a real knock at a time when even granting holiday time can leave you feeling short-staffed.

As we pointed out last week, Peter Mandelson did try to postpone these regulations. But, as is so often the case, small businesses are left bearing the brunt of unhelpful legislation that's come in at the most difficult time for their survival, despite even senior cabinet members acknowledging that the extra red tape is the last thing they need.

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