Glossary: HR & Recruiting Definitions
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Benefits for employers:
The pros generally outweigh the cons when it comes to flexibility in working. However, there are a few disadvantages to consider as an employer:
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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