Is an unlimited holiday policy right for your business?

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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.

Culture

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.

Guidelines

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.

Record

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.

Measurement

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

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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

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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

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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

 

Hot topic: Changes to flexible working law

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Legislation to allow all employees to request flexible working came into effect on 30 June. In part one of this Hot Topic Jane Fielding, head of employment at international law firm Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co explains how HR will need to prepare.

It is debatable whether extending the right to request flexible working to all employees will really trigger a tidal wave of applications. A 2012 CIPD survey indicates that 63% of workplaces already allow all employees to request flexible working and they have not been deluged.

For most employees, it’s about balancing flexibility with affordability and, particularly during a recession, not everyone’s family finances can support reduced hours, for example.

That doesn’t mean the extended rights won’t have an impact on the workplace and HR does need to be gearing up for the changes.  As well as extending the right to request, the new regime gives more flexibility in handling the request. It replaces a fairly prescriptive procedure with a duty to consider requests in a “reasonable manner”, generally within three months.

Managers will need guidelines for dealing with requests so the situation doesn’t drift, leaving the individual hanging and reducing the time to look properly at the request (and any appeal). The statutory business reasons for rejecting a request won’t change.

Prioritising requests is also likely to be a challenge. Employers don’t have to make value judgments  – many organisations do not require someone to say why they want the change. However, firms should bear in mind how this right fits with discrimination legislation.

Most employers are familiar with the risk of indirect sexual discrimination if a woman with childcare responsibilities is refused a change in working pattern. But if requests do start to come from a wider range of staff (such as male employees wanting to look after children or older employees seeking to wind down towards retirement), employers need to treat those even-handedly if they want to avoid discrimination claims. There will be some difficult judgment calls if not all requests can be accommodated.

This article is published courtesy of HR magazine. Read part two of hot topic tomorrow featuring the views of Daisy Group HRD Marie Wheatley.

 

Is your company ready for the practical demands of flexible working?

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With the new changes to flexible working legislation coming in on 30 June 2014, HR teams must be prepared for an increase in requests from employees to work when and where suits them.

Recent ADP research, The Workforce View 2013, found that while almost two thirds (63%) of the UK workforce still work in a fixed location and 49% regular hours more than two thirds (68%) said they would actually like some element of flexibility. Therefore, a significant chunk of the population not currently working flexibly would like to.

What’s more, figures released last week by the Office for National Statistics showed that there were 4.2 million UK home workers in the first three months of 2014, amounting to 13.9% of the workforce. This is the highest proportion since measurements started in 1998. These figures indicate the flexible working trend is gaining pace and shows no sign of abating any time soon.

A trend shift is no bad thing, as the new rules promise to give employees more control over their working day and work-life balance. Meanwhile, potential benefits for employers include improved engagement and productivity levels, not to mention reduced office overheads due to fewer staff on-site.

However, the changes might not be be plain sailing for HR departments. While the legal side is one headache, there are also the practicalities of having workers operating from various locations to consider. Ensuring flexible workers can do their jobs effectively requires the right technology and people management processes, yet this is an area where organisations may struggle.

For example, the ADP research showed that 52% of the working nation does not currently have a mobile, laptop, tablet or smartphone provided by their employer. While some of these workers may be in industries such as manufacturing or retail, where flexible working isn’t possible, for office-based staff this could be a significant barrier to working flexibly. A laptop would now be considered a necessity for most remote and flexible workers, as is a mobile phone – ideally of the ‘smart’ variety.

But hardware like this can be expensive, which can put some companies off flexible working at the outset. But nowadays, this doesn’t need to be the last word on the matter. Smartphone usage increased to 68% of the population in 2014, according to TNS research commissioned by Google this year, while 86% of adults use a laptop or desktop online at home (Facebook and GfK research, March 2013). Bring your own device, therefore, offers a seriously viable alternative for companies, particularly for SMEs.

Accessing work information can now be facilitated through the cloud, with a multitude of innovative, secure applications on offer to manage every area of the business, including HR.

Cloud technology also helps with one of the most regularly cited barriers to flexible and remote working: communications. Company updates can now be managed through the cloud, while instant messaging and specialist social media applications ensure employees are always in touch with their colleagues and managers, wherever they are operating.

HR professionals, like many others, have seen IT increasingly influence their day-to-day role and responsibilities. Yet the melting pot of technological and cultural factors involved in flexible working mean that it is more important than ever for HR teams to collaborate with their IT department. Traditionally not the best of bedfellows, combining the right IT solutions with the best people management expertise will ensure the barriers to introducing flexible working can be overcome. It’s time to start talking.

This article is published courtesy of HR magazine and was written by Annabel Jones, HR director at ADP

 

The New Flexible Working Regime – 30 June 2014

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Following the Government’s Consultation on Modern Workplaces the right to request flexible working will be extended, from 30 June 2014, by the Children and Families Act 2014.

The right to request flexible working is currently linked to carer responsibilities, including parents of young children, disabled children and adults in need of care. Many employers will have received requests from employees for flexible working in this context before and will therefore be familiar with the current statutory procedure for handling flexible working requests.

For those who are not familiar with the principle of flexible working requests, this is simply the right for employees to request changes to their working hours, working times or location and if granted such changes become permanent changes to their terms and conditions of employment. This is often associated with requests to work part-time following return to work after maternity leave, but is certainly not limited to that scenario. The current regime includes a highly prescriptive and much criticised statutory procedure, which employers must follow when handling the request, including strict timescales for meetings and appeals.

The changes which take effect in June will have the following main implications:

  1. All employees will have a statutory right to request flexible working for whatever reason. The only eligibility criteria are that they must have 26 weeks’ continuous employment at the date they make the request and must not have made another request within the last 12 months.
  2. The strict statutory procedure will be abolished and replaced with a requirement that employers consider flexible working requests in a “reasonable manner”.

This means that although the right has been greatly extended the Government have attempted to balance this with a more flexible employer-friendly process.

The requirement to consider requests in a “reasonable manner” appears at first to be vague and difficult to follow, but ACAS have come to the aide of employers by producing a Code of Practice on Handling in a Reasonable Manner Requests to Work Flexibly and an accompanying Guide, both of which can be accessed on the ACAS website, www.acas.org.uk.

Although the process outlined in the Code is not statutory it will be taken into account by Employment Tribunals when determining whether or not an employer has dealt with a flexible working request in a reasonable manner and therefore whether or not the employer should pay compensation to the employee as a result of unreasonable handling of a flexible working request.

Full details can be found within the Code itself but in summary the process for handling flexible working requests should be:

  1. Upon receipt of a written request for flexible working, the employer should arrange to meet with the employee to discuss the request as soon as possible. Employers should give employees the right to be accompanied at the meeting.
  2. If the employer intends to approve the request without the need for a meeting with the employee then a meeting is not necessary.
  3. All requests should be considered in a non-discriminatory way and can only be rejected for one or more of 8 specific business reasons (which remain unchanged from the previous legislation): burden of additional costs; inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff; inability to recruit additional staff; detrimental impact on quality; detrimental impact on performance; detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand; insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work; a planned structural change to your business.
  4. Employers must inform employees of the decision in writing as soon as possible. If the request is accepted (or accepted with modifications) then the employer should discuss with the employee when and how the changes should be implemented.
  5. If the employer rejects the request they must give the reasons for the rejection in writing and allow the employee the right to appeal. Any appeal meeting should also permit the employee the right to be accompanied.
  6. The overall time period from receipt of the request to completion of the process (including any appeal) must be no longer than 3 months, unless an extension has been agreed by the employee.

What should you do to prepare for the changes? If you have an existing written policy or procedure on flexible working then this will become out of date on 30 June 2014 and if you do not change it then you may be contractually bound to stick to the more prescriptive timescales and deadlines contained within it. A complete overhaul of your flexible working procedure and any HR templates should therefore be conducted as soon as possible with a view to implementing the changes on 30 June 2014.

If you do not already have a written policy or procedure on flexible working then it is recommended that employers put one in place. Employers are required to advise their employees of how to make a flexible working request and the information that must be provided. To ensure consistency and compliance with this obligation this information would be best set out within a formal written policy, which should also outline the process that will be followed, the right to be accompanied and the timescales involved.

A key principle of the ACAS Guide relates to addressing attitudes towards flexible working with a view to employers recognising the benefits for their business in allowing properly managed flexible working arrangements. Many employers find that a flexible workforce suits their business and creates a happy and trusting work environment. In fact, many employers have already extended the right to request flexible working to all employees, before the forthcoming change in the law in June. This may allow employers to retain employees that may otherwise have left due to family commitments, voluntary work or other outside work commitments or interests. However, it is important to remember that the legislation does not currently, nor will it after 30 June 2014, create a right to work flexibly, rather it is a right to have the request considered.

This article was written by Nina Robinson, head of legal services, HR Legal Service

 

Fathers jealous of perceived maternity advantage, says paper

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Fathers trying to secure flexible working arrangements see themselves at a disadvantage compared to women, according to an academic paper on the subject.

Parents, Perceptions and Belonging: Exploring Working Among UK Fathers and Mothers features in-depth interviews with working mothers and fathers.

It suggests male workers feel ‘flex envy’, as they face barriers to flexible working that they don’t believe exist for women.

However, Caroline Gatrell, senior lecturer at Lancaster University Management School and co-author of the paper, told HR magazine this view is often wide of the mark.

“A lot of factors mean that fathers see themselves facing struggles that they believe are exclusive to them,” she said. “In truth, women have faced these problems for years. In many cases the difference is that women are aware of these issues and are prepared to fight for their rights.”

Gatrell added that this is particularly true of women who are on their second or third child. Despite the skewed perceptions men have, the paper suggests that real barriers do exist for fathers, especially where the traditional family structures break down.

“Managers often assume that when a man becomes a father, there is a woman at home who is able and prepared to do the bulk of the caring,” Gatrell said. “This isn’t always the case. In some instances the mother has left, or even died, and the man is the sole carer.”

The paper also has contributions from Cary Cooper and Paul Sparrow, both leading HR thinkers and academics at Lancaster University Management School. It was compiled in conjunction with Working Families, a UK charity that helps workers achieve a better work-life balance.

 

Flexible working: dads want choice, too

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Flexible working, particularly in relation to child care, is heavily skewed towards mums. HR magazine editor Arvind Hickman argues a shift in employer attitudes is needed ahead of next year’s shared parental changes.

Recently, I met up with a business associate at the Brockwell Lido for lunch. When we entered the bright, airy cafeteria the noise of toddlers, babies and stay-at-home mums was instantly deafening: “Great choice for a business meeting,” I thought.

The waitress told me this scene is a daily occurrence at the Lido café, and who could fault mums for it. But one thing that was noticeably absent from the cafe, until I had arrived, was the presence of men.

Why is it that women disproportionately take on the primary parenting role? The short answer is that current legislation and societal norms are heavily geared towards mothers assuming primary child care. And, according to our report on flexible working, dads aren’t happy about the lack of flexibility.

A recent study, by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), found fewer than 10% of new fathers take more than two weeks of paternity leave. This figure drops to only 2% for male managers, citing greater pressure to return to work early.

Worryingly, a quarter of men don’t take any time off after the birth of their child, missing out on those magical early days of a newborn’s life.

Aside from workplace pressure, poor pay is cited as a huge disincentive after the two-week statutory paternity period.

New shared parental legislation, being introduced in April 2015, means that men and women will be able to choose how they split parental leave. However, our report and the ILM study shows that flexibility alone will not lead to more even parental care.

Employer attitudes that discourage men from requesting time off for child care need to change, and here’s the reason why: dads want choice and flexibility, too.

Workplace flexibility is an economic issue, not a gender issue. The old-fashioned gender stereotype about men being the breadwinner is not a reality in many households today.

Latte papas

In some countries, this shift towards more stay-at-home dads is well underway. In the oft-quoted beacon of gender equality Sweden, parents can share 480 days of parental leave per child – 390 days of which is paid at 80% of salary. It’s a system I have personally benefitted from as my child is half Swedish and spent his first six months there.

This has led to Swedish dads, known locally as ‘latte papas’, taking 24% of parental leave in 2012. Sure, it’s not quite ‘equality’, but a split that is currently unimaginable in the UK. Importantly, it provides families choice, and while the parental split may never be equal it will at least be fair.

While it is difficult to compare the business landscape of a social democracy to the firmly capitalist UK, a workplace culture that encourages dads to share parental leave benefits parents, business and society.

It allows mums to ease back into work more seamlessly and ensure their careers are not halted by motherhood, if they so choose. It also allows businesses to retain talented individuals that might otherwise be lost to parenting. Finally, it allows dads to no longer feel they are missing out.

How successful the UK’s new shared parental rules will be remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: dads want workplace flexibility, and let’s hope business rises to this challenge.

This article was written by Arvind Hickman (pictured) editor of HR magazine.