Monthly Archives: December 2013

Flexible Working – The Advantages and Disadvantages

From 2014 the government proposes to extend flexible working to all employees in an effort to promote economic growth through a strong and efficient labour market having undertaken a consultation exercise in 2011.  Flexible working was brought into force during 2003 and already parents and carers benefit from being able to make flexible working requests.  ACAS will be developing a Code of Practice on flexible working to support the new law.

The new legislation will replace the current statutory procedure where employers will need to consider flexible working requests within a specified time frame; employers will have the duty to deal with requests in a reasonable manner within a reasonable time frame.  This is being introduced as the government consultation identified that many employers find the existing statutory procedure too prescriptive and time frames inflexible. A statutory code of practice will give guidance on the meaning of reasonable.  Employers will be provided with guidance on how to tackle conflicting requests when received at the same time.  The current requirement to have 26 weeks qualifying period of continuous service will remain.

Flexible working can take many forms – part time working, term time working, job-shares, home-working, compressed hours and flexitime and brings with it both advantages and disadvantages.

The advantages to businesses include being able to hold onto valuable staff, having a wider talent pool, reducing absenteeism, increasing commitment from employees and improving productivity.  A business might also be able to extend opening hours due to the wider availability of the workforce. The government consultation exercise highlighted some employer concerns over the extension of flexible working such as an increased burden and threat of employment tribunals for increased declines in flexible working requests if they can not be accommodated.  Smaller businesses have to ensure they have enough staff available to cover the required hours.  This could be more difficult due to lower levels of employees compared to larger organisations. 

Flexible working benefits employees with a better work life balance so that they have more time to spend with their families or undertake hobbies. Childcare costs may also be reduced.  With employer permission they can travel into work and avoid rush hour traffic, therefore arriving more refreshed.  For those employees who are allowed to work at home all or part of the week, there are the benefits of reduced fuel and motor maintenance costs.

However flexible working without a supervisor being present may cause difficulties for some employees who may be unable to take the initiative or need direction with their duties.  Employees who are not personally motivated may struggle to stay on task and give the job “their all” so that productivity is affected.  Another disadvantage could be that communication and team working may be affected.

The government are confident that the introduction of flexible working for all with bring huge benefits to businesses as well as encouraging a more motivated engaged workforce.  Time will tell…..


How To Manage Remote Workers

Over the last few years there has been a huge growth in the numbers of people working from home or remotely.  This has been caused by the increased use of high speed broadband, Skype, laptops, tablet computers and hand held devices facilitating the ability to work wherever we like.  Millions of people now work at home or remotely on either a full time or part time basis.  With it comes the challenges of learning how to manage remote workers. 

A challenging economy has also forced employers to cut back on costs, such as office expenses, and let people work remotely. There’s also evidence that others, who haven’t been able to find jobs, are earning a living by starting a home-based business.

There are many advantages to this type of working, which we can all recognise; the work-life balance is much improved without the stress of struggling to work every day on the congested road and increasingly disorganised rail systems.  So much time is saved by not having to get up at the crack of dawn to get to the office on time and exhaustion is a distant memory as we leisurely wake up, eat a decent breakfast in the comfort of your kitchen then get the kids to school before sitting down to the computer to start the working day.

As long as we meet our targets and maintain our usual output, the hours we work need not be fixed if our work (and where relevant our manager) dictates, so that by working flexibly we have the time to do that bit of shopping or attend that dentist appointment during the day.

Having set up and completed a risk assessment on the work area to comply with health and safety what could be easier than working from home?

The reality is, however, that it doesn’t suit everyone.  Working from home can be very isolating.  How many of us actually see our neighbours and friends during the day now – they are all out at work!  Being alone day after day with no social interaction can be very lonely without that “over the photocopier” chat, gossip with the tea-lady or the office Friday pub lunch where we can look forward to the weekend.

For those individuals prone to depression working from home can become a nightmare with the distinction between work and home becoming a blur.

The saying “out of sight out of mind” might apply with a perception of being ignored by the company, if we are an employee, can set in, only getting the odd phone call to check that performance targets have been reached and to find out when the monthly figures will be sent in.  In such circumstances a feeling of de-motivation and being under-valued can occur and lead to a drop in performance.

Working from home is ideal for self-starters who can discipline themselves to work set hours so that there is a clear distinction between work and home.  Line managers of such individuals have to have the experience and skill to be able to manage at a distance and understand the issues that arise.

First and foremost, the type of work needs to be adaptable to home-working such as administration, freelance interviewing and sales.

The company needs to ensure there is a home working policy in place that covers issues such as health and safety, equipment safety, data protection, communication and performance management. There should be consideration to having a home working checklist.  These documents should be communicated well to the workforce with clear procedures in place.

The line manager needs to be able to encourage team interaction by organising team meetings at a single location on a regular basis to provide valuable information on what is happening within the business, eg and training & promotional opportunities.  Perhaps video conferencing could replace physical group meetings when these are not possible.  Such get-togethers should be supplemented by phone calls and emails to keep in touch.

The line manager needs to be able to communicate clear goals and the standards expected within the home-based role and be equipped with the tools for measurement and assessment of work quality to ensure that everything is satisfactory.  Training for line managers in managing hom workers is important.  

Security of information and data protection should be a high priority.  A decision should be taken whether to give remote workers full or controlled access to network links using an IT security risk assessment.  The issue of company laptops with encryption software, for example, would reduce the possibility of disaster with important corporate documents getting mixed up with the children’s homework or theft from the boot of a car.

Also the installation of virus protection and guidelines on authorised use of additional software and prohibition of USB sticks and floppy discs to transport data should be essential.

Information on using secure servers and taking daily back ups should be incorporated into an IT security policy both for remote (and office) workers giving details on not sharing passwords, not opening suspicious email attachments and visiting work-related websites only.  Clear instructions for not modifying any company spreadsheets and macros without authorisation can also help to provide guidelines on what is acceptable IT use.

Companies considering implementing home or remote working should think about running a pilot scheme to see if it is feasible and practical for business and individual needs before making a commitment.

Succession Planning – Who Will Walk In Your Shoes?

Succession planning is the process whereby an organisation plans its human resources in such a way as there are successors to take over when senior post holders retire or leave.  It is all about identifying skills and providing appropriate training and development to enhance those skills so that the successors can effectively step into an identified pre-determined role.  By nature of its description the planning is to considered as part of a long term strategy.  Succession planning can be for an individual or for a pool of employees.  Succession planning for an individual can be due to a specialism.  Using a pool of employees who are to be developed is ideal to develop generalist skills so that the individuals can be slotted into a number of posts when they become vacant.

It is relevant for both small and large organisations.  Some time ago I had a conversation with the MD of a small business who did not have any family to pass the business to.  He told me he did not know what would happen to the business when he came up for retirement.  I advised him that it would be a good idea to identify someone in the business who could take over whilst he took a back seat when the time came.

These days succession planning is linked to strategic talent management and should be balanced in that home grown talent is used in conjunction with recruiting outsiders who bring fresh blood.  A wide range of activities can be incorporated into the development of internal talent which includes informal and formal activities designed so the individuals can gain work experience. Whilst many upward moves are not possible these days with the growth  of flatter management structures, lateral  moves and secondments can offer valuable development experience.  Succession planning should also be linked to business strategy.

Candidates for succession planning can come out of conversations with managers, appraisal interviews, skills audits and competency assessments and is usually coordinated by HR.

Keeping In Touch Days – Guidance for Employers

Statutory maternity leave allows for ten keeping in touch days whereby an employee can go to work without that affecting her statutory maternity pay provided she has a contract of service.  Keeping in touch days are also available to employees who are on adoption leave and additional paternity leave.  The shared parental leave legislation due in during 2015 will add an additional twenty keeping in touch days to an employee’s entitlement.  Keeping in touch days can commence two weeks after a baby is born.  They can be taken in blocks or individual days.

Keeping in touch days can help ease an eventual return to work. They can be used for attending a conference, team or training event or having an appraisal interview for example or even doing some work.  An employee has to agree to work with her employer; her employer can not insist she works.  The arrangements should be made with notice prior to the employee going into work. 

Any work done on a keeping in touch day will be counted as a whole day, this includes even if a employee goes into work for just an hour.  Keeping in touch days can be taken as single days; in blocks of two or more days; or can be taken consecutively. Once an employee has used up the keeping in touch days if they do any further work they will lose a week’s SMP in the maternity pay period in which the work is done.

For any keeping in touch days that an employee works under her contract of service for the employer paying her SMP, the employer must pay SMP due for that week as a minimum. Any contractual payment for the work done as a KIT day, will depend on the agreement between the employee and employer.

If an employee has more than one employer they she is entitled to ten keeping in touch days for them all employers if they all pay SMP due to qualifying criteria. 

An employer should stay in touch with employees on maternity leave, adoption leave or paternity leave and inform them of any promotions, redundancies or changes at work.  This is not a statutory requirement but should be more so because of courtesy and encourages employee engagement.



Shared Parental Leave – Sharing the Parental Load

In April 2015 new rules related to the shared parental leave will come into force as announced by Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)  The new legislation means that fathers can take more time off work to share in the upbringing of their baby in the following 50 weeks after the birth.  Any shared parental leave fathers take will be in addition to the existing two weeks paternity leave.  Father will soon have the right to two days unpaid to attend ante natal clinics.

A new mother will be able to convert statutory maternity leave and pay into shared parental leave and shared parental pay in the year following the birth of a baby.  Shared parental leave and shared parental pay will also be available to adoptive parents and parents through surrogacy.

There will be a two stage eligibility test.

Stage 1 (the joint test): for an employee to qualify for shared parent leave and shared parental pay, their partner must meet the economic activity test. This means they must have worked for any 26 out of the 66 weeks preceding the baby’s due date and have earned at least £30 gross salary per week for any 13 of those 66 weeks.

Stage 2 (the individual test): In order to be eligible for shared parental leave, the parent must have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service with the same employer at the 15th week before the baby’s due date and still be working for the same employer when they intend to take the leave.

To qualify for shared parental pay, the parent must have earned an average salary of the specified amount, or more (the Lower Earnings Limit – currently £109 per week) for 8 weeks prior to the 15th week before the baby’s due date.

Shared parental pay will be at the statutory level therefore pay for 39 of the 52 weeks will be based on the salary of the parent who is on leave. For the first six weeks the person on leave will receive 90% of his or her average weekly earnings before tax, after that it will be 90% or £136.78 – whichever is lower – for 33 weeks.

Parents will decide how much leave to take, whether they take the time off together or in turns. They have the right to return to the same job as they did before they went on leave provided the  total leave (maternity, paternity and adoption leave) does not amount to more than 26 weeks. If the leave amounts to more than this then they have the right to return to a similar job. 

Employees will need to give a non-binding indication at the outset of when they expect to take the leave.  They will be required to give eight weeks notice to take specific periods of leave, or to change a previous notification.  Employees will be able to take a maximum of three blocks of leave unless their employer agrees to more. Employers will not be able to refuse leave, but they will be able to refuse discontinuous blocks of leave eg if someone asks for two six-week periods of leave, an employer can insist that it is taken as a single 12-week block. Mothers must take a minimum two weeks of maternity leave to recover before they can split their leave with the father.

Parents will be able to have up to twenty ‘keeping in touch’ days at work per parent whilst on shared parental leave.  This well be in addition to the ten keeping in touch days for the mother as provided for in maternity leave legislation.

Employers should review and update their existing policies in the light of this forthcoming legislation.