Kath Riley is MD of Douglas Scott Legal Recruitment, one of the UK’s leading legal recruitment specialists with over 40 staff in offices in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. She has sat on a number of debates on women in the law and flexible working as the company is ranked in the top 5% of the UK’s cohesive working cultures and is the only REC and APSCO affiliated legal recruitment agency with an ISO9001 accredited quality management system. Its ethos is pinpoint positioning and in the first quarter of 2014, one in four CVs sent by the agency resulted in an interview.
Under new rulings announced in the last couple of weeks, all 30 million British workers now have the right to request flexible hours, as opposed to just parents or carers.
This change in the law has been heralded as a move to make workers happier and improve their productivity, and the advancements in technology certainly mean it is easier than ever before to work from home or job-share.
The news has been greeted with some caution from the legal world however, with some employment lawyers warning that it could lead to a huge surge in the number of workplace grievances and rising resentment between employees.
I don’t see why that has to be the case and there are a number of reasons why I think this move is a positive one:
Flexi-time can improve staff attraction
It is one of the main things that is mentioned by candidates we meet, as increasing workloads and life pressures mean that people are juggling a great many responsibilities. By offering it, employers could attract a much wider cross section of people and skillsets.
It can improve staff retention
Our annual salary and benefits benchmarker revealed that almost half of legal employees would like flexi-time, and that retaining more staff could be as simple as offering this as a bonus. Keeping a good member of staff, by offering a little flexibility, seems like a no-brainer to me.
It can help maintain morale
A happy workplace is more productive and creative. At Douglas Scott, we are fans of the Scandinavian principal of Arbejdsglaede, which translates to ‘work happy’. Life is simply too short to be unhappy at work, and employers need to trust their staff to deliver, whether they are working from home or the office.
Technology makes it so simple
Vast numbers of hours are wasted on travel and meetings, when they could be a quick skype or google hangout, reducing travel time and meaning people can quickly return to their tasks. Technology means we can work remotely and effectively in many professional roles now, and also provides the capacity to log and track the workload, for complete clarity.
Females have always asked for flexi-time more than men as the responsibility of childcare is usually theirs. As a working mother, an employer and a recruiter, I applaud this. I do however, applaud complete equality even more. Everyone has the right to ask for time off: this should not be seen as a luxury set aside for parents.
It’s only a request
Ultimately, the employer can still say no. The fact that everyone has the right to request part time hours, compressed hours, working from home or job sharing does not guarantee they will get it. It can only work if it is feasible and fair on everyone else. This should reassure nervous employers. But at least it is a start.
There are some professions for which job shares or part time roles simply are not practicable. But for those that are, and that includes several areas of the law, it is time to get on board. The world of work is changing and the UK / legal industry needs to keep up.