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Glossary: HR & Recruiting Definitions

What is flexible working?

Flexible working refers to any type of work arrangement for employees that gives them more flexibility in how they work. This can be location-based, such as working from home, or time-based, also called flexible working hours or flexitime.

Flexible working policies help employees gain more control over their work schedule and how they balance their professional life with their personal life.

Flexible working meaning

Flexible working means offering employees flexibility in how they arrange their work schedule and working conditions. There are many ways of flexible working, and companies can create widely different flexible working policies based on their needs and those of their employees.

For example, a common flexible work policy is to let employees work from home. Another example is the idea of flexible working hours (also called flexitime or flexi time), which further offers employees more freedom and power over when they do their work.

Offering flexible working hours or other flexible work arrangements to your employees is generally considered a benefit. As such, it can have a positive impact on your employer branding and employee retention, thus reducing employee turnover.

In some cases, however, it might also be a legal requirement for an employer to offer such arrangements.

Flexible working legislation

In some countries, like in the United Kingdom, all employees—not just parents or carers—have a legal right to request for a flexible working arrangement. This is called making a statutory application. In most cases, employees have to have been employed through their current employer for a certain period of time before being eligible for flexible working requests (in the UK, it is 26 weeks).

As an employer, you are obligated to handle and consider any flexible working requests in “a reasonable manner”. For more information on the specific rules in the UK, please refer to the Acas code of practice for handling requests. For other countries, please refer to the respective country’s government website for more information.

A request for flexible work will vary widely per employee. Some might want to switch from full time to part-time work, while others might like to work remotely.

Types of flexible working

There are many ways in which working arrangements can be made more flexible than the traditional 9-to-5 in the office. Here are examples of the most common types of flexible working policies:

Working from home

When the job duties allow it, for example when working digitally as a Software Engineer, an employee might request a working from home policy (also called home office). For example, they might be allowed to work from home two days per week.

The COVID-19 pandemic has already forced many companies into becoming more flexible in this respect.

Remote work

In some cases, employees may request (or employers may offer) fully remote work. In this case, the employee never has to work from the office. This should be clearly stated in their contract.

This differs from the option to work from home, where it generally isn’t specified in the contract but rather offered to the employee as a flexible working benefit.

Flexible hours (flexitime)

Flexible working hours, or flexitime, is generally offered to the entire company as a whole. How your company might arrange this policy will depend strongly on your type of business and just how much flexibility you want to offer.

By definition, flexitime refers to any type of working arrangement where the working hours aren’t completely fixed and static (like the traditional 9-to-5).

Some examples of flexible hours policies:

  • Employees can choose themselves when they work their daily hours as stated in their contract (e.g. eight per day on a full-time contract). This policy means one employee might work 08.00-17.00 (with an hour break) while another may work 10.00-13.00 and 15.00-20.00 instead.
  • A similar policy can be created on a weekly basis as well. Meaning, as long as the employee works their 40 hours per week, it doesn’t matter when during the week they do them.
  • You can also offer some flexibility but still implement “core working hours” (e.g. between 11.00 and 15.00) that everyone has to be at work. The benefit is that it’s easier to schedule meetings with different team members, as everyone will be available these hours. The downside is that there are many possible scenarios you need to consider. Is lunch part of core hours? How about a gym class during the day? What if someone has to catch a train but can still work from the train?

Part-time work

This is when an employee wants to work less than the standard full-time hours specified for the job. Depending on the country and industry, full time means 40 hours per week, while part-time can mean any number of hours below that.

Compressed hours

This refers to when an employee wants to maintain their full-time contract (e.g. 40 hours per week) but work their hours in fewer days. This can simply be a part of a flexitime policy, but it can also be more precisely specified in an employee’s contract as compressed working hours.

For example, an employee could work four days of ten hours per day, rather than five days of eight hours per day.

Annualised hours

This policy can technically be a form of flexitime, although an annualised-hours policy is generally more contractually defined. Within this arrangement, the employee has to work a number of hours per year, but when they work those hours is (partly) up to them.

In most cases, the employer and employee will still agree on core hours each week that the employee has to work. Outside those hours, the employee is free to arrange their own work schedule, as long as they reach their yearly number of hours.

Staggered hours (shift work)

In this case, different employees have different start, break, and finish times. Staggered hours are more common in jobs such as factory work, where employees work in shifts rather than the entire workforce having the same working hours.

Job sharing

Lastly, some companies offer job sharing options. Generally, the idea is that two employees (although it could be more than two) share the same job. By both working part-time within the same position, they together make up one full-time employee.

For example, one employee could work Mondays and Wednesdays, while the other works Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. In terms of company operations, they function as one single entity rather than holding two different positions.

Should you offer flexible working options?

Whether flexible working policies benefit your company will strongly depend on your type of business, the industry you work in, and the specific flexible arrangement in question. That said, there are several common advantages (and some disadvantages) to offering flexible working to your employees.

Benefits of flexible working

Flexible working arrangements can benefit both the employer and the employee. Let’s have a look at the different benefits for each party.

Benefits for employees:

  • More freedom to arrange their work alongside their personal life, improving their work-life balance.
  • Policies such as working from home or choosing their own start and finish times means employees can avoid long or busy commutes to the office.
  • Parents and carers have more time and freedom to care for their dependents while still being able to remain employed.
  • By receiving more freedom and autonomy, employees will feel more trusted and valued by their employers.
  • With policies such as flexitime, employees don’t have to take annual leave whenever they have a doctor’s appointment or someone coming to check the meter at home. This means they keep more of their holiday days for actual holiday, rather than running errands.
  • Increased flexibility can alleviate some pressure on employees. This in turn can help prevent overworking and burnout.
  • It can save employees money as they have to spend less on things such as childcare costs or commuting.

Benefits for employers:

  • Offering flexible working arrangements can greatly boost the employer branding, as flexibility is a very sought after employee benefit.
  • Flexible working policies not only make your company appeal to more candidates, but it also makes it more accessible. For example, a single mom might not apply to a job if there is no flexitime. So, offering flexible work can help broaden your recruiting efforts and attract more diverse talent who will add to your culture.
  • Flexible work will improve employee happiness, satisfaction, and productivity, which in turn will improve your employee retention. Not being flexible can also be a reason for resignation for some employees.
  • This, in turn, will lead to a more positive company culture as well as a more engaged workforce.

Disadvantages of flexible working

The pros generally outweigh the cons when it comes to flexibility in working. However, there are a few disadvantages to consider as an employer:

  • Some might abuse their new-gained freedom. Although most of your employees will feel empowered and actually become more productive, there can always be employees who use flexible working arrangements to simply put in less work.
  • Creating and implementing fair and clear flexible working policies will take some time.
  • As employees move from all working at the same location and time to choosing their own schedule, the office culture and team spirit might be affected. For example, some employees might struggle to connect with their colleagues when some are working fully remote.

This is why, as with any HR policy, you should carefully consider the specific rules you want to implement in your business. For example, to allow employees freedom whilst still nurturing an office culture, many companies have implemented hybrid working arrangements where they try to find the sweet spot between flexibility and some regulation.

You can read more about hybrid work in our separate article on remote work vs. hybrid work.

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