Personnel has informed you that if an employee with children under six wants to work flexible hours, you have to give their request serious consideration. Someone else has pointed out that your office hours are difficult for most parents, adding that there might be less of a scrum to get into the car park at 9am. That clinches it, but how do you set about introducing flexible hours?
LOOK FOR A WIN-WIN. Ideally, flexible working will offer operational benefits for your organisation, as well as work-balance benefits for your staff. For example, it could mean being open for business for longer hours, as well as having people present when they are really needed, rather than when the clock dictates. 'Generally speaking, employers will also reap benefits in terms of better morale and improved recruitment and retention,' says Marilyn Tyzack, a diversity specialist at the Work Foundation.
ADOPT A FLEXIBLE APPROACH. Every company and every workforce is different, says Tyzack, so you really need to embark on a study to find out what your staff want, and to consider how the needs of the business would be met by flexible working. Different groups of employees may have distinct aspirations - parents may want time off in school holidays, while young single employees may prefer later hours, or sabbatical time for travelling.
START SMALL. It's a good idea to start with small groups, rather than convert the whole organisation, according to Jo Thurman, recruitment director of consultants Flexecutive. 'See if it works, make the changes needed, if necessary use role models to demonstrate that flexible working is really viable,' she suggests.
GET OUT OF YOUR BOX. Introducing flexible working is a good opportunity to re-examine how you operate. 'Think about how each job can be done in a different way,' suggests Sally Dench, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Employment Studies. 'Once you start, it's surprising just how many jobs can be made flexible. If somebody wants to work flexible hours but their job doesn't allow it, consider moving (but not sidelining) that person.'
OFFER GUIDELINES. Line managers may resist because they don't understand how flexible working works, and employees may not know what to ask for. So publicise the main options, such as flexi-time, annualised hours, compressed working week, job-sharing or term-time working. Adds Thurman: 'Line managers have to apply the policy objectively and consistently. It's no good if one manager lets an employee work flexible hours but another doesn't in similar circumstances, just because of personal feelings.'
PLAN FOR FLEXIBILITY. In consumer-facing jobs, shifts must be properly covered, but in an office environment, managers need to plan ahead. 'You can't assume someone will be available for a working breakfast, and when you delegate, you can't ask for something to be done by tomorrow if the person isn't there,' says Dench. Diary-keeping ensures you are aware when an individual is working.
MEASURE THE RESULTS. Monitor deliverables like absenteeism, morale, staff turnover and key performance indicators to establish that there's a business case for flexible working. Weigh up extra costs, such as laptops and extra office opening hours, against savings, such as reduced space or business travel.
STAY LEGAL. As well as the Employment Act, other legislation on disability rights and sex discrimination may confer flexible working rights, says Andy Lake, editor of Flexibility magazine.
DO SAY: 'We're doing away with presenteeism culture. If people deliver the goods, it doesn't matter where and when they do it.'
DON'T SAY: 'We're introducing a new flexible working system. You will be notified of your shifts at the beginning of each week.'