Employers and work-life balance

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Business case – Troubleshooting

Q&A for managers and HR professionals

There are bound to be teething problems when introducing new ways of working. Use this Q&A to help you avoid problems before they arise.

Q: If we introduce a work-life strategy, will I still be able to make individual arrangements for certain employees? This helps us remain flexible to changing needs.

A: Ad hoc agreements for individuals can work well, especially for one-off requests like taking extended leave. But they can also go wrong when misunderstandings arise, there is resentment from other employees or business needs change.

A set of guidelines would help minimise misunderstandings and give you the opportunity to review your strategy from time to time. Telling employees and job candidates about opportunities for flexible working, rather than waiting for them to ask, will also help you recruit and retain people.

Changes in legislation mean that employees will have new statutory rights that you should be aware of and manage so your business needs are met and you avoid the risk of litigation. Read about latest legislation.

Sample guidelines

Flexible Working Policy for Joe Bloggs Ltd:

  • Applications for extended leave or flexible working (other than in an emergency) will always be considered, but first need to be discussed and agreed with your manager so that:

  • The needs of the business are taken into account

  • The impact on other members of staff is considered

  • The best option is identified to meet everyone’s needs

Managing the arrangement:

  • A notice period of x weeks/months is required before further changes are made

  • Reviews to ensure that the agreement is working, will take place at intervals of 3 months

  • All requests will be given equal consideration, taking the above points plus overall employee performance into account.

  • We will try our best to accommodate your needs, but there is no guarantee that this will be feasible. However, where a refusal is necessary, the matter can be reviewed again after 6 months, taking the same considerations into account

Q: If I let one person change their working hours, won’t everyone want the same flexibility?

A: If you agree to one person changing their hours you are setting a precedent and you will need to be very clear about the business reasons for not permitting other employees to do likewise.

The new legislation also means that any parent of a child under six years old has the right to request flexible working, and the request needs to be assessed as to whether it will have a detrimental impact on the business.

A set of guidelines will be essential in helping you assess each case fairly and in the interests of the business and to provide you with a framework for reviewing performance.

Find out how to develop guidelines

Q: How much time will it take to set up and manage all these different arrangements?

A: You will need to spend time on planning and scheduling at the beginning to ensure that employees’ hours and leave arrangements match operational needs. Once these arrangements are in place, however, you could find yourself saving time as unplanned absenteeism drops, staff turnover falls and you spend less time ‘fire-fighting’.

Find out more about the business benefits of a work-life strategy.

Q: Won’t certain employees try to take advantage if we offer them more flexibility?

A: Some people will try to take advantage in any situation but most will not – in fact, work-life balance research shows that the majority of employees become more responsible, not less.

In the early stage of implementing your strategy, hold regular meetings to discuss personal development plans and appraise work with individuals who are now working flexibly. Keep careful records of unexplained absences.

Good people management combined with a work-life strategy should increase productivity and morale. However, some people may be experiencing real problems – organising childcare for example, when returning to work after maternity leave. This is where work re-organisation or offering back-up information to help them find care, loans or subsidies will be useful.

Managers also need to be supported in ensuring flexible working works well for the business.

These tips on implementing your strategy may be helpful.

Q: Part-timers can’t stay late when we really people to put in extra hours. How can we make part-time working work for us?

A: People who work part-time to fit around other responsibilities will find it difficult to stay late – they may be collecting from school. Depending on the nature of your business and your ability to plan ahead, this could be a problem, which you will need to consider carefully when taking someone on.

Can the workload be planned differently or can your part-time staff work late on some agreed days, perhaps using an after-school club for part of the week if they have school age children). It will help if, when you appoint staff, you state that the needs of the business may require them to work occasional overtime and to ask them to make back-up plans in anticipation of this.

One advantage of job sharers or a team of part-timers is that they can often provide cover for one another when crises occur or to cover holiday leave.

Find out about other type of flexible working patterns

Q: How can we help employees with childcare problems when we can’t afford to set up a crèche?

A: Employees don’t expect small firms to provide on-site day care but if you help out in other ways, employees will appreciate your concern. If childcare is an issue for your staff you could consider other options:

  • Provide an information pack on what’s available locally or a local telephone help line for childcare listings

  • Buy into a help line service which finds childcare vacancies for your staff

  • Subsidise places in local nurseries or at after school clubs

  • Work with other local organisations to have a joint solution to childcare issues e.g. jointly subsidised places, which may cut costs.

Read about other forms of employer support.

Q: Customers expect our staff to be here full-time. How can we introduce flexibility?

A: Customers do like continuity of service – another reason why a retention strategy and low employee turnover are important. Bear in mind that it may be better to keep an experienced person working 4 days per week than to lose them altogether along with customer goodwill.

With careful implementation and monitoring, flexible working patterns can actually increase the number of hours that a company is open for business.

This case study may be helpful.

Where to next?
Jargon buster – glossary of work-life terms


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