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Last month, ‘National Work Life Week’ encouraged employers and employees to look at creating a healthy balance between work and home life. Most employers agree that the need for this balance is important, but struggle to create a culture that promotes this.

Flexible working

One of the most common ways to encourage a more adaptable culture is through the use of flexible working. According to a YouGov poll carried out earlier this year, only 6% of workers are working a "traditional" 9-5 working day.

Employees who have 26 weeks continuous service have a statutory right to request flexible working. This can come in a variety of forms, from altering start and finish times to part-time hours. Once a formal request is made, employers are under an obligation to consider the request reasonably. This would include:

  • discussing the request with an employee;

  • allowing the employee to be accompanied at any meetings;

  • considering the request carefully, and;

  • informing the employee of your decision in writing as soon as possible and in any event within three months of the request.

Employers can decline a request, but it must be for one of eight specific grounds set out in the legislation covering the right to request flexible working.

There may be legitimate reasons why you cannot accommodate certain working patterns, but a business should always consider whether a rejection for flexible working could disadvantage a particular group of people and therefore raise potential discrimination issues. For example, if you have a rule that you don’t accept part time working requests, this could have a disproportionately adverse effect on women who are more likely to have childcare responsibilities.

Effect of technology

While technology has reduced the physical boundaries between working and non-working time, making it difficult to separate work and home life, technological developments can also make flexibility possible.

A Trades Union Congress (TUC) report  published in September has cited the rise of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation and robotics as giving the capability for working more productively. This, in turn, could make it possible for employees to work a four-day week for the same pay. Whether or not this is achievable is a matter for debate, but it highlights that technology can streamline the way we can work.

Extended reality technology has the potential to assist with bringing together talent from all over the world, enabling employees to share office space, training and meetings via virtual reality platforms. It may sound far-fetched, but this technology is one of a handful that is likely to impact the way we work in years to come.

While there is a strong recognition and a desire to ensure that employees have a healthy work/life balance, employers will need to empower their staff to achieve this.

Furthermore, as we enter an age where we are more connected than ever before, the challenge for employers will be to use new technologies that support, rather than compromise, staff wellbeing.

This article was published in Travel Trade Gazette on 8 November 2018.

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