Firms know lawyers want flexible working hours

Working from home warrants the highest level of trust between employee and employer, but reaps the biggest business benefits, explains Kayleigh Leonie.

Historically, flexible working was taken to simply mean working from home, which, in turn, was viewed as having an extra day off. Today, the definition of ‘flexible working’ is much more… flexible. Flexible working can now mean the ability for an employee to change the hours they work, the times when they are required to work, or their place of work (which could be to another of their employer’s offices). It could mean part-time working, compressed hours, flexitime, job sharing, or term-time working (to give just a few examples).

The rules around an employee’s right to request flexible working from their employer were extended in 2014, yet many people remain unaware of the change. There is no longer a requirement for an employee to be a parent or carer; they simply need 26 weeks’ service with their employer in order to make a request.

A firm is not obliged to agree to this request, and there are a broad range of business reasons that it can cite to justify refusing an employee’s request to work flexibly. The firm may also suggest a trial period, rather than rejecting the request, if it is uncertain of the impact of the proposed arrangements on the business or workforce.

Research indicates there are many positive business benefits associated with a more flexible workforce, such as:

  • Greater staff loyalty and improved retention rates;
  • Higher levels of employee satisfaction resulting in more positive client feedback;
  • Reduced stress and therefore fewer days lost to absence;
  • Higher levels of productivity; and
  • Substantial cost savings through reduced office space.

For flexible working to be successful, though, it requires a high level of trust and confidence between an employee and their employer. But, by allowing employees to work from home to collect deliveries or attend GP appointments, for example, it can make them more productive during work time.

According to research results published by marketing organisation Mintel, around two-thirds of employees consider flexible working to be the most important benefit offered by their employers. Law firms are increasingly advertising agile working regimes available to all fee earners. These firms give their employees more freedom to choose their own hours and the way they work, and as agile working regimes are open to all fee earning staff, it is not necessary for solicitors to submit formal flexible working requests.

When most people think about the hours solicitors work they are likely to picture somebody sitting at their desk late at night with a desk full of papers. For firms to get the most out of their staff they should, in theory, be valuing productivity over face time.

Clients want to get the best service from their solicitor. Solicitors, therefore, need to be more efficient in their practices and working methods. With the welcome encouragement of agile working practices, productivity could be on the rise.

Kayleigh Leonie is a solicitor at Cripps and a Junior Lawyers Division executive committee member.

This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 15 September 2015, and is reproduced by kind permission.

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