Treat people like adults – the do’s and don’ts of implementing new flexible working legislation

On 28th June new employment legislation on flexible working will be introduced. It’s an interesting development given that much of the recent changes to employment law have been ‘employer friendly’. On the face of it, this latest piece of legislation flies in the face of this – it essentially gives employees the right to request a flexible working pattern which to some might make it ‘employee friendly’ legislation (though the reality is the employer can still refuse the request). My argument is that this new legislation should be seen as both employer and employee friendly.

Will this legislation work? Perhaps. Though on my recent experience the UK government still have to convince at least some employers and HR professionals that this legislation is a good thing.

A couple of weeks ago I was at a business lunch for HR managers (the attendees were mostly from medium sized companies) which was hosted by a Law Firm. One of the employment lawyers spoke about this pending legislation and I found it interesting to observe the reaction in the room. It was decidedly cold. One lady made a joke about ‘being able to go more shopping’. That was the positive comment. Another two meanwhile made comments along the lines of “not telling their staff” (about the new legislation!) and “this would release the floodgates”. I sat there bemused and once again found myself rolling my eyes at how backward looking many in the HR profession are.

I don’t know…perhaps I’ve simply spent too much time with technology start-up companies and I’m losing my sense of ‘the real world’. Though if I am, long may it continue! I proceeded to offer another view and carefully said that, yes in certain job roles flexible working could be more difficult to implement, but that my experience of it has been positive. Only recently I had a chat with a colleague who told me flexible working (in his case condensed hours) allowed him to stay with his company for two additional years than he intended to do. He was able to meet childcare responsibilities but he also said he was no less productive as a consequence – in fact he was sure he was more motivated and productive because of it.

But perhaps my detractors will tell me that such fluffy examples are the exception. So back in the real world, why can’t more people get on board with the idea of giving staff a little more freedom or autonomy over their working week?

I can’t help but conclude that for many it comes down to a simple issue of trust alongside very engrained and traditional views about what ‘work should be’. It’s a worrying conclusion not least because the world has changed and is changing. Furthermore why would you want to work in a workplace dominated by such views? I certainly wouldn’t. It sounds like my experience of being in the army but without the cool stuff.

So what’s my advice? Well for a start don’t treat people like idiots (they will find out about this new legislation eventually) and don’t be afraid to tell them about this new legislation. But go a step further…why not embrace it? Why not look at ways to give people some more flexibility over their working week? Sure – different job types have their own constraints but I’d wager most employers could offer at least something. And what will you get in return? As I’ve written about many times before, people don’t just work for money and in fact it’s a poor motivator on a day to day basis. The science tells us people do generally want a sense of autonomy over their lives. If you can provide this you will help contribute towards a happier workforce. And even the traditionalists will have heard the old stories about a happy workforce and a productive workforce…