Change Management – New Flexible Working and the “soft” impact on the UK working culture

New flexible working rules arrived in the UK today (30/06/14) aimed at increasing the flexibility of working arrangements that an employee can legitimately request for. The ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) guideline summaries the range thus:

  • Part-time working. For example, an employee might start work later and finish early in order to take care of children after school
  • Flexi-time. Employees may be required to work within essential periods but outside ‘core times’ they often get flexibility in how they work their hours
  • Job-sharing. Typically, two employees share the work normally done by one employee
  • Working from home. New technology makes communication with office and customers possible by telephone, fax and email from home, car or other remote locations
  • Term-time working. An employee on a permanent contract takes paid or unpaid leave during school holidays
  • Staggered hours. Employees in the same workplace have different start, finish and break times – often as a way of covering longer opening hours
  • Annual hours. This is a system which calculates the hours an employee works over a whole year. The annual hours are usually split into ‘set shifts’ and ‘reserve shifts’ which are worked as the demand dictates
  • Compressed working hours. Employees work their total agreed hours over fewer working days – for example, a five-day working week is compressed into four days
  • Shift-working. Shift-work is widespread in industries which must run on a 24-hour cycle, such as newspaper production, utilities and hospital and emergency services.The guideline ( states that any employee with 26 weeks service with the employer can apply for flexible working and that the employer can only refuse for the following reasons:
  • I think this is an excellent development and applaud the potential benefits of this change for employers and employees – if managed sensitively and well.
  • The burden of additional costs
  • Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • Inability to reorganise work among existing staff
  • Inability to recruit additional staff
  • Detrimental impact on quality
  • Detrimental impact on performance
  • Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
  • Planned structural changes.

This covers a comprehensive range of reasonable grounds…the inference being that if flexible working was possible and practicable, a reasonable and forward thinking employer would have implemented it years ago for those who wanted it – without waiting for today’s rules.

What the above doesn’t guarantee though is the gracious acceptance, by an employee, of the reasons given for a refused application. Nor does it cover how the employee can be coached through the shock of the denied application, so as to minimise their resistance and the subsequent detrimental impact on their performance (and their colleagues’) emanating from the refused application – so that this doesn’t affect their next application. This, arguably, is “right brain” thinking on the inter-related “soft” impact of the change.

Instead, by focusing on the various “left brain” processes that the employee can engage after their application is refused, (one of which includes recourse to the internal grievance process), is there not a concern that the guideline appears to inadvertently encourage the employee to doubt their employer’s assessment and reasons for refusal? Which in turn leads to a question of trust and a negation of the mutual benefits for which the rules were introduced in the first place?

Change transitions are normally accompanied with some sort of skills training – usually of the employees, on how to use the newly introduced process, systems and structures. In this case, I think employers will do well to consider the use of both technical (e.g. business analysis; change management) and soft training (e.g. communication, change coaching) to manage the end to end impact of the changes to flexible working – for their managers, staff, customers and organisational culture.

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