No single business case for flexible working

Different sectors and divisions, even within the same organisation, will require their own context-specific cases

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to building and presenting the business case for flexible working, according to a panel of experts speaking at the Working Families Annual Conference 2016, attended exclusively by HR magazine.

The event marked the launch of Working Families’ new ‘Building the Business Case’ online resource. The guide aims to cater for HR departments as they introduce, bed-in, and encounter opposition to flexible working, and to help employers futureproof strategies.

“Very large organisations will need to make a different business case for different bits of their organisation,” said Jonathan Swan, research and policy manager at Working Families. He explained that the guide allows HR teams to pull out and use stats and case studies – on retention, productivity or diversity for example – most relevant to their business or division.

Also speaking at the event was Monica Gordon, diversity and inclusion manager for BAE Systems’ Naval Ships division. She spoke on the business case made for this division’s office staff – employees for whom many might assume flexible working would be unsuitable.

Gordon explained that the case presented to the business was the need to manage overtime costs more effectively, and satisfying the division’s sole customer, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), and its increased interest here.

The result was a model “revolutionary in its sector”, whereby production line staff work to targets rather than set hours. Because targets are often hit by Thursday that typically gives employees every Friday off. Although “it took a long time to persuade people [BAE wasn’t] trying to steal a benefit from them”, and though persuading some managers is an ongoing challenge, the outcome has been a much more engaged and team-orientated workforce, said Gordon.

Regarding the need to continually evolve flexible working, Gordon told HR magazine after her talk: “We’ve done quite a bit of generational analysis and we know that what Gen Y wants is different to Baby Boomers. So who knows what Gen Z will want. The pendulum might even swing back a bit.”

Also speaking at the event was head of inclusion at RBS Marjorie Strachan. She stressed the importance of flexible working as a solution to challenges faced by the business, and “keeping things simple”. Regarding the business case at RBS, she explained: “You can’t be a trusted organisation unless you’re demonstrating through your behaviours and values that you’re inclusive.”

Making flexible working a success has been about “being very clear around the commercial case for being a more inclusive organisation”, and ensuring this doesn’t just sit “under the guardianship of HR”.

“Being an inclusive bank needs to be part of executive conversations,” she added.

Resource has actually been taken out of RBS’s D&I budget in recent years, Strachan revealed. “50% of that budget has actually been cut,” she said. “[With too much resource and overly complex, separate HR strategies] everyone creates data and admires the plans; they get distracted by coming up with the plan.”

Strachan told HR magazine that she sees introducing flexible working as a change management process. “You can’t get to an environment where people can work flexibly by processes or policies. You have to ensure through culture and leadership actions that it’s clearly supported,” she said.

For more information on Working Families’ Building the Business Case guide, visit:

The results of the Top Employers for Working Families Awards, supported by HR magazine, will be announced 13 June

A third of employees would prefer flexible working over a pay rise

A third (34%) of employees would prefer a more flexible approach to working hours than a 3% pay rise

Investors in People’s Job Exodus Trends poll asked respondents to choose between two scenarios – a 3% pay rise in line with recent UK increases, or a different non-remuneration benefit.

As well as those looking for a more flexible working life, nearly a third (28%) said they would rather have a clear career progression route and a quarter (24%) would prefer their employer invested in their training and development more.

Nearly half (48%) of the UK workforce said they will be looking for new jobs in 2016. The most common reason people were unhappy with their current role was poor management (43%), followed by not feeling valued (39%). Unsatisfactory pay was the third most common reason as to why employees were unhappy, cited by 38%.

One in five (19%) employees across the country complained of having a high workload, and nearly a quarter (23%) are concerned by a lack of career progression. Just over a quarter (27%) said they were unhappy with their levels of pay. Career progression was a particular issue for younger workers with more than a quarter (26%) of 18- to 24-year-olds saying they felt they have no clear career progression in their current role.

Head of Investors in People Paul Devoy said that improved salaries over recent months mean that pay has become less of a gripe for UK employees.

“But longstanding issues around poor management and how valued people feel at work continue to make UK workers miserable,” he added. “We know that bad leadership alone costs the UK £39 billion a year. If employers addressed these factors they would have a more committed workforce and far fewer resources tied up in constant recruitment drives. As the economy improves many employers run the risk of losing their valuable, skilled staff.”

Devoy said that small things can make a big difference. “Feeling valued, understanding their role in the organisation, and how they can grow with the business are all big concerns for UK workers,” he said. “Saying thank you, involving employees in decisions, and giving them responsibility over their work are basic ways to make staff happier and more likely to stay. Employers also win, with a more committed workforce, higher retention and a clearer view of the future.”

Wellbeing for flexible workers

For many employees flexible working arrangements are a dream come true. However, a change of scene can have some serious repercussions for our health

Looking for a more flexible approach to your job? You’re certainly not alone. Last month a pan-European study of 11,000 working adults by ADP found one in three would like an entirely flexible working pattern.

And earlier this year a Robert Half survey of 200 senior HR professionals showed that remote working in the UK has increased by more than a third over the last three years. Nearly two-thirds (60%) of the HR directors surveyed believe greater autonomy over working practices results in increased productivity.

More businesses are realising the productivity and health and wellbeing benefits of allowing employees to work where and when best suits them. David Shields, head of diversity and inclusion at law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, provides a neat example of how allowing staff to work from home can be a win-win set-up: “There’s one guy who normally has a two-hour commute so he uses one hour of that to get more work done and one hour to see his children. That seems fair to me.”

And yet flexible and remote working are not without their health and wellbeing dangers – pitfalls that the HR community is only just getting to grips with now, say those in the know.

So what are the potential dangers, and how can they be mitigated?


Digital technologies have enabled a change in the way we operate, but evidence has emerged showing that IT may pose a threat to employee health. Monideepa Tarafdar, professor at Lancaster University Management School and co-author of The Dark Side of Information Technology, a paper based on 14 studies covering more than 3,100 employees and 28 organisations in the US, warns that ‘technostress’ can sap employees’ wellbeing and undermine their productivity and innovation, especially among flexible workers who are unable to switch off. In one study of mobile email users, 46% exhibited medium to high addiction-like symptoms.

A separate Esri poll of 1,000 UK adults discovered that more than 35% are affected daily by debilitating stress from data overload. Additionally, more than a third said they struggled to absorb content.

“Paying attention to a vast amount of data requires multitasking – rapidly switching attention from one source to another – which has been found to increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol,” says Dimitrios Tsivrikos, consumer and business psychologist at University College London. “Receiving novel information activates the brain’s pathway, which leads to a continuous cycle in which we are compelled to seek out more and more information, eventually resulting in a state of restlessness.”

Tarafdar’s report recommends HR works closely with IT departments to monitor technology use and introduce warning signs when excessive behaviour is detected. However, she says the process is not straightforward: “It’s not as easy as saying ‘let’s switch off the email servers at 6pm’ because some people work at that time. This is where the nuances come in; it’s something that has to be worked through in conjunction with technology [departments].”

Rebecca Mossman, HireRight’s HR director, EMEA and APAC, believes employers need to set expectations and be explicit about them. “It’s making sure you find that balance and are clear what you want that role to do and how much flexibility you expect,” she says. “Are you giving the flexibility to work from home so that person can take a few hours out of the day and log in again in the evening? The important thing is that [the employee] delivers what is required within their working week. They should not feel guilty because they’re not sat at their desk 24/7. If they were in the office they’d have a coffee and take a lunch break with friends.”

Isolation and mental health

There is also the danger of remote workers feeling forgotten, undervalued and unsupported away from the office. Mandy Rutter, psychologist at wellbeing consultancy Validium, reports that Validium’s employee assistance programme helpline receives the most calls on these subjects.

“[Home workers] often feel that they are not cared about and their only value is their online presence,” Rutter says. “There is no one saying ‘come on, look after yourself. The office is closed you can pick it up tomorrow’. What we grow from and get nourished by is our connectedness with others.”

Lucy Gilmore, HR director at PHA Media, calls this ‘out of sight, out of mind syndrome’. “Working remotely has a big red flag for me and that is the potential for breakdown in communication, and reduced investment in relationships with colleagues and the employer,” she says. “This can lead to a huge range of performance issues as well as a decline in commitment to the business. Staff feel undervalued, unseen (literally) and completely unsupported.”

Janice Haddon, MD of leadership consultancy Morgan Redwood points out that everyone is different, meaning home working just won’t suit some employees. “For some the lack of contact with others during the working day can actually lead to demotivation and in the extreme, depression,” she says. “As with everything, one size does not fit all.”

For those that could thrive (and help the business thrive) through a more flexible approach, continuous interaction is crucial. Steve Mosser, CEO of Sensée, the UK’s largest employer of home-based workers, argues ‘isolation’ is not a problem if it’s recognised and work is organised in a fashion where people have regular touch points and ‘huddles’.

“We built the LiveDesk as a means for everyone that works on the same client account to have their own virtual office where they can chat, share and support each other,” he says. “They have weekly team huddles and also a weekly coaching and development session with their line managers.”

But Rutter stresses the importance of scheduling reasonably regular face-to-face catch-ups too. She warns that someone might appear to be performing output-wise but their physical appearance can paint an entirely different picture. “[Emails are] not going to show you that I’m stressed. You can’t see bags underneath my eyes, or that I’m losing weight,” she says.

Physical wellness

Earlier this year a survey of more than 2,100 adults by the British Chiropractic Association revealed that 26% of people find using a laptop or computer a trigger for back pain. “‘Text neck’ or office syndrome is almost an epidemic,” says Paul Morrissey, an osteopath with more than 20 years’ experience, based at the Osteopathic Clinic of Physical Medicine in Croydon.

“Over the past two years I’ve seen a 50% rise in the number of people presenting with neck, upper back, shoulder, and wrist pain caused by poor work-related posture. Employers need to ensure their staff are working in safe environments, not on their sofas or kitchen tables. I know some people who will work for seven hours straight hunched over a laptop, which causes all sorts of problems.”

According to Acas, employers’ duty of care extends to homeworkers. Companies should therefore carry out a risk assessment to check whether the proposed home workplace’s ventilation, temperature, lighting, space, chair, workstation, and floor are suitable for the tasks the individual will be carrying out.

Sensée’s Mosser says workplace assessments can be conducted virtually, while corporate wellness coach Alisa Burke recommends remote workers factor movement into their working day. “I am shocked by how many fewer steps I take on the days I work from home unless I schedule long dog walks or walk errands to compensate for all the steps I usually take catching the train and Underground,” she says.


The UK’s most flexible and family-friendly employers revealed

The UK’s most flexible and family-friendly employers have been revealed by work/life balance charity Working Families.

The annual list features organisations that have completed a benchmark survey that examines in detail their flexible and family-friendly working policies and practices.

The Top 10 Employers for Working Families (A-Z)

  • American Express
  • Barclays
  • Centrica
  • Citi
  • Deloitte
  • DWF
  • EY
  • Lloyds Banking Group
  • Ministry of Justice
  • Southdown Housing Association

Top 11-30 (A-Z)

  • Addleshaw Goddard
  • Aimia
  • Chelsea & Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Computershare
  • Hogan Lovells
  • iCrossing
  • KPMG
  • National Assembly for Wales
  • Oliver Wyman
  • Pinsent Masons
  • Royal Mail Group
  • Santander UK
  • Simmons & Simmons
  • Sysdoc
  • The London School of Economics and Political Science
  • The Scottish Government
  • The University of Lincoln
  • UBS AG
  • Wales & West Housing
  • Westfield Europe Limited
  • Employers with up to 250 employees could opt to enter a tailored Small Employer Benchmark.

The Top 10 Small Employers for Working Families (A-Z)

  • Brand Learning Group
  • Bristol Students’ Union
  • CiC Employee Assistance
  • Edison Investment Research
  • Effective HRM
  • iCrossing
  • Parental Choice
  • Sacker & Partners
  • Solve HR
  • Workpond

Top-scoring Small Employer Benchmark entrant Sacker & Partners will be named as the overall Top Small Employer for Working Families.

Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families, extended her congratulations to the winners. “In a working environment where the right to request flexible working and shared parental leave is now a reality, these employers have shown leadership and innovation in their policies and practices and will reap the rewards of attracting the best talent and having a loyal and engaged workforce,” she said. “As flexible working becomes embedded in more organisations, Working Families is calling on employers to adopt a ‘flexible by default’ approach to continue the rise in flexible working and help everyone to achieve a work/life balance that works for them.”

Julian Foster, managing director at Computershare, said that flexible working has benefits for both employer and employee. “The best employees have rounded existences, and the best employers do not force their staff to compromise their commitment to their families, so congratulations to all the winners of these important awards.

“Flexible working creates happier and healthier workforces that are hardworking, committed and loyal, and it’s great to have had another chance this year to share ideas and reward those organisations that empower their employees.”

Lack of flexible working forcing mothers out of work

A lack of childcare options and inflexible employers are forcing some mothers out of the workplace

More than four in 10 (41%) working mums say the childcare options available are not flexible enough, according to research from

The survey of more than 2,300 mothers found childcare for school-aged children was a problem for 57%, with 45% relying on assistance from their children’s grandparents to cope. Inflexibility on the part of employers was also found to be an issue.

Some women are being forced to resign from jobs they love:

Anne*, a former retail buyer from Essex, was forced to leave her job after being refused flexible working options when she returned after maternity leave

“When I went back to work, I felt quite strongly that I didn’t want to work full-time as I was keen to also spend quality time with my new son. When I applied for flexible working on the basis of three days a week, however, my request was unfortunately turned down, and I had no choice but to leave the job that I loved and had trained seven long hard years in.

What is most frustrating for me is the fact that I have spent nearly seven years of my life learning many skills to be a great retail buyer, only to have these skills and this experience go to waste just because I decided to have children.

It is a sad thing for me to admit, but I don’t think I will ever be able to work in retail buying again.”

Ishita* worked at a global pharmaceutical company as a technical documentation writer. After having a child she had to leave her job because the organisation would not give her a flexible working/part-time work arrangement

“It was a bit of a shock when my company did not grant me part-time hours. I knew the company well, had undergone ongoing training for more than three years, was consistently commended for my work and enjoyed every moment of what I was doing. I thought I had a strong future with the firm, especially when I survived a large-scale redundancy programme in 2011 when the business lost more than a quarter of its UK workforce.

I would have loved to have kept working at the company, but from day one my priority has always been my daughter. My husband and I have put our plans to buy a house on hold until I can secure some reasonably well-paid work. Unfortunately I keep being told that I am over-qualified for the part-time jobs I am currently applying for, such as shop work. It is really frustrating.”

*Names have been withheld to ensure anonymity

Is an unlimited holiday policy right for your business?


With the advances in technology in today’s society, flexible working has become easier than ever and key to the success of many businesses.

Most recently flexible working has been taken one step further, with companies such as Virgin and Netflix introducing unlimited holiday policies for their staff.

Unlimited holiday is still a fairly new concept and, from an HR perspective, is complicated. As it potentially allows employees to take limitless holidays at any given time it is vital that HR teams give careful consideration to how it will operate, and consider including specific guidelines in order to ensure a company is not vulnerable.


It’s important to review the type of culture that exists within a business before implementing the policy. Unlimited holiday is a scheme that would work in firms where there is a good degree of flexible working already, and where employees are responsible for their own workload.

However, for companies where staff are mostly required to be on site, an unlimited holiday scheme may lead to complications if employees are not present.

To be beneficial for both employers and workers there needs to be a significant amount of trust and autonomy. Employees need to be mindful and respect work priorities and deadlines. Employers will need to be confident that productivity and work output are not damaged if the number of holidays employees take increases.


While the intention of unlimited holiday is that it is effectively a non-policy, it is still important to set guidelines. This could include requiring staff to gain authorisation for proposed holiday dates in advance.

Communication is vital, particularly in larger companies where there are different teams, as an employee’s absence may have a knock-on effect on another team and it is crucial for everyone to be aware of this to enable effective planning.


Recording holidays is advisable. The Working Time Regulations require employers to permit full-time staff to take a minimum of 28 days, including public holidays, and if holidays are not recorded it may prove difficult for the company to evidence that employees take their statutory holiday entitlement. It will also provide statistical information to enable take-up to be analysed when monitoring the effectiveness of the scheme.


As an unlimited holiday policy allows for a significant amount of flexibility, an employer needs to be strong in other areas of the business. Employee productivity and performance should be measured to help determine whether an unlimited holiday scheme is working for everyone and not having a detrimental effect on the business.

An unlimited holiday policy can be extremely beneficial for some businesses as it can help motivate and encourage staff and it can also act as an incentive when recruiting new team members. However, for it to be effective, it is essential that a company is clear about requirements and that everyone is aware of expectations. It is important that this feeds into the recruitment process and that employees who are selected are self-motivated and thrive in an autonomous and flexible workplace.

This article is published courtesy of HR magazine and was written by Kate Matthews (pictured), HR and employment director of business advisory firm Greenaway Scott

Unlimited holiday great alternative to flexible working

Unlimited holiday could be a great alternative to flexible working for many businesses, director of EST Accountants Barry Esterhuizen told HR magazine.

He stated that unlimited holiday, where employees take as much holiday as they want when they want, offered the benefits of flexible working in terms of boosting people’s sense of wellbeing and engagement through a stronger sense of autonomy, but gave businesses more certainty.

“If you know someone’s away for a week you can work with that. If someone’s leaving at four one day and then two another for example, it becomes more difficult,” said Esterhuizen. “Unlimited holiday allows us to manage resources more effectively.”

Esterhuizen said that he believes unlimited holiday will soon start to become much more commonplace in UK business. He said it might even become more popular than flexible working in the longer term.

“Unlimited holiday won’t become more popular than flexible working in the short term future, but it might do eventually,” he said, adding that this was because: “very few people have real flexible working. It’s one of those things where they say ‘we offer flexible working’ but then can’t grant this when people make requests.”

“Finding staff will be increasingly difficult however unless companies try to make the workplace more attractive in this way,” he stated. “So this is a way of offering more flexibility and autonomy. It makes more sense to me.”

Implementing such a policy relies on a strong culture of trust, and hiring people the company can trust in the first place, said Esterhuizen. He explained unlimited holiday could also help build that culture.

“We work in an open, collaborative environment so people are aware it will have an impact on colleagues if they abuse the system.”

Esterhuizen said the policy would probably lead employees to take less than their allocated 28 days some years, as people often see 28 days as “a target” to be hit rather than a desirable amount of time off. He said he thought use would average out to around 28 days a year over several years though.

“People may want to go on safari one year, or be getting married. It doesn’t make any sense for them to take holiday they weren’t bothered about taking one year and not have enough the next,” Esterhuizen pointed out.

He added that seeing 28 days as a target is often a time-consuming preoccupation for employees, with the unlimited holiday policy designed to mitigate this. However, he warned that companies must still record holiday taken by staff to ensure they’ve taken the statutory amount.


Nearly a quarter of workers request flexible working


About a quarter (23%) of workers have requested flexible working despite more than half (54%) being aware of the government’s right to request legislation, a study by O2 Business has found.

Employees said the main reasons for not taking up flexible working are a lack of trust (chosen by 31% of those polled), a business culture that doesn’t encourage working away from the office (28%) and a lack of technology to facilitate it (20%).

The survey of 2,000 UK workers indicated employer reluctance to embrace the legislation is set to continue, with only 12% of workers believing their organisation would embrace flexible working in 2015.

O2 Business general manager of SMB Paul Lawton said flexible working has many benefits, such as improving morale, raising levels of employer loyalty and productivity gains.


Employers need to accept parents’ family focus, says Mumsnet CEO


Employers must accept that working parents will always put family considerations ahead of work, according to Mumsnet CEO and founder Justine Roberts.

Speaking at an event in London to discuss flexible working as part of the CBI Great Business Debate, Roberts urged employers to accept this truth as a way of forging better relationships with working families.

“I had careers both in the City and as a football journalist, which were both very male-dominated environments. And I noticed that there were parents there who really had to pretend their children didn’t exist,” she said.

“I needed a different working environment, one that recognised an essential truth – that parents will always put family first and work second.”

Roberts added that for many work will come “a close second”, but accepting it will not be put first will make for “much better employers”.

Research carried out by the CBI, based on a YouGov poll of around 1,300 workers, revealed 38% of British working parents report finding it either “fairly difficult” or “very difficult” to balance their work and family/home lives. The results are almost identical for men and women.

Another part of the research suggests 40% of employees feel comfortable asking for flexible working, although 42% would feel uncomfortable doing so.

Jill Sheddon, group HR director at Centrica, said that “the language of corporates can sometimes suffocate the debate” around flexible working in large corporates.

“When we had some round tables about flexible working what struck me is that SMEs actually did a lot of this stuff but just didn’t label it as such. The mindset was that what was good for the individual was good for the company.”


Hot topic: How will flexible working changes affect HR? Part two


Legislation to allow all employees to request flexible working comes into effect on 30 June. With a record number of employees already working from home, do HR professionals appreciate the full impact of the changes? Daisy Group HRD Marie Wheatley gives her view.

It is crucial for HR professionals to create up-to-date policies that reflect the new legislation, so that they comply with the flexible working changes. Effective preparation, which ensures internal processes are in place to deal with requests, will help avoid any unnecessary burden on resources.

Despite the flexible working trend gaining pace as workers begin to realise its benefits, businesses shouldn’t expect a mass influx of requests. Instead departments should anticipate and cater for the long-term impact, which can be done by running surveys to predict the likely uptake.

Outlining clear parameters from the beginning will help avoid any confusion and prove an effective way to minimise unreasonable requests. It is very important that staff are aware that the regulation only ensures that their request is dealt with appropriately, as opposed to thinking it is guaranteed.

Businesses should utilise the Acas code of practice for handling requests in a ‘reasonable manner’, which although not statutory, will provide a framework for analysing requests as well as being taken into consideration by employment tribunals. The official legislation for rejecting a request represents a fair code that offers businesses protection around key considerations such as cost, logistics and productivity.

The changes, if handled properly, should represent a massive boost for the industry, offering the potential to enhance employees’ job satisfaction, which will improve morale and loyalty. Professionals don’t need to feel overwhelmed if they have a framework in place that handles each request openly, fairly and without discrimination. If this is done the changes shouldn’t cause too much of a challenge.

This article was published coutesy of HR magazine and was written by Marie Wheatley, group head of HR at telecommunications company Daisy Group