Flexible working or flexible wording? - Veterinary Practice
Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now



Flexible working or flexible wording?

Paul Brill looks at how changes to the rules on ‘flexible working’ are likely to affect the management of veterinary practices employing staff – and the opportunities they offer.

AS workplace demands on
employees increase, juggling
work and family commitments is
becoming more and more stressful.
With this in mind, political parties
in the UK are well aware of the
opportunities involved in offering
“family friendly” employment law
changes and, later this year, the law
will change to widen the scope for flexible working.

The concept of flexible working was
introduced back in 2003. Currently,
such a
request can only
be made
by a
acting in the
capacity of a parent, or by an employee
connected to an adult requiring care
(spouse/partner, relative or co-habitee). Those making an application
must have at least 26 weeks service
with their employer and be the person
providing the care.

However, under the new flexible
working rules included in the Children
and Families Bill, the right to request flexible working will be extended to
all employees who have completed 26
weeks service.

Less rigid

In 2013, a CBI survey found businesses
can save up to 13% of their workforce
costs by creating a less rigid working
environment. The new rules also offer a great opportunity for practice
managers to improve their employees’
work-life balance.

It’s vital, however, that requests
are managed fairly while ensuring the
operational needs of the practice and
its clients are met.

While practice managers
might recognise the benefits of
accommodating flexible working
requests in terms of loyalty and
productivity, it’s likely that they’ll
have to face some difficult decisions
and possibly opposition from other
members of staff.

For example, they may receive
multiple requests from employees
who want Fridays off and, in this case,
decisions will probably have to be
made which may seem some employees are being favoured over others. So
potentially, practice managers could find themselves in a difficult position
– both operationally and from an
employee relations perspective.

By their very nature, veterinary
practices need to have enough staff
available for pre-determined hours
whilst also ensuring they have the
capacity to deal with emergencies at
any time of the day or night. Smaller
practices, in particular, may struggle to
ensure they have enough staff available
to cover the required hours.

In its Consultation on Flexible Working,
the Government anticipates several
different arrangements that could be
put in place, including flexitime, shift
working, part-time and term-time
working. It states that flexible working
requests can also include the right to
work part of the day or week from

Difficult for some

Although this might save the employee
fuel costs and travel time, flexible
working without a supervisor being
present may be difficult for those
unable to take the initiative or those
who need direction.

Some employees may also struggle
to be disciplined enough to carry
out their duties and productivity
may be affected. A breakdown in
communication and team work may
sometimes occur.

Also, whilst home-working may be
possible for a practice’s “back room”
staff, managers may be required to
ensure any home-based office is
compliant with health and safety

Rather than committing to a long-
term arrangement, it might be a good
idea to embark upon a three-month
trial when flexible working requests
are agreed. After this time, a review can be made to see if the arrangement
is working for both parties and any
changes made if necessary.

This would help
practice managers
demonstrate fair
consideration to the
employee’s request for exible working, even
if the decision is later

Small number

In reality, the number
of successful
applications for flexible
working is notoriously
small. This is because
the Government has identified and
documented several
grounds on which an
application could be rejected.

These include issues such as the
effect on performance, quality, meeting
customer demand and cost.

Provided that a practice manager
follows the proper process of
meeting the employee, discussing
and considering the request (and
documenting this process), then it is fairly easy to reject any request if
any of the grounds for doing so are reasonable.

So, although only one request
can be made every
12 months, once
the employees of the 4,000-plus
veterinary practices
in the UK become
entitled to request flexible working,
should we expect a
transformation in
working patterns?

The answer is
“probably not”.
The Government
has retained, with
identical wording,
all of the grounds on which an employer is entitled to
refuse a request and so, even with an
inevitable increase in requests, the
proportion that are successful will
remain miniscule.

The moral of the story is: when
there is an election on the horizon,
be sure to read the small print of
politicians’ promises.

Have you heard about our
IVP Membership?

A wide range of veterinary CPD and resources by leading veterinary professionals.

Stress-free CPD tracking and certification, you’ll wonder how you coped without it.

Discover more