Flexible working should be available to all employees in all industries from the first day of their job, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has said.
There should also be a reduction in the time employers are allowed to consider and respond to flexible working requests based on the circumstances and clear business reasons must be given for turning them down with the possibility of exploring alternatives.
Those are among the measures IOSH has called for in response to a consultation into flexible working by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
According to IOSH, flexible working has a number of benefits for workers and businesses, including decreased absenteeism or presenteeism, an increased ability to attract and retain staff, heightened morale in the workplace and positive impacts on the workforce’s health, safety and wellness.
It also provides more opportunities for older workers and can address some of the barriers faced by disabled workers or people with long-term health problems.
Ruth Wilkinson, Head of Health and Safety at IOSH, said: “Flexible working has huge benefits for both workers and their businesses. As things stand, however, not all workers are able to access it, something which we feel needs to be put right.
“We’d like to see the adoption of any necessary steps to avoid a polarised job market where flexible working arrangements are only available to some industries or workers. This can happen by incorporating changes in legislation that incentivise both top-down and bottom-up processes and practices for work-life flexible requests and accommodations in the workplace, and through business management systems.
“It’s about being holistic and recognising the need for workplaces to be more worker-friendly, responsible, and accommodating to individual needs, and essentially having a whole-person management approach that values and supports people.
“IOSH is conscious that legislation developments might not be the panacea. They can set the foundations and expectations and drive further take-up but may remain ineffective if not accompanied by strong business and societal support and willingness to respond to changes in how work is or can be organised and managed.”
The BEIS launched its consultation into reforming flexible working regulations in September, with a closing date for responses being earlier this month.
IOSH also believes that legislative developments should incentivise employers to go beyond minimum legal requirements.
And it recommends that flexible working arrangements are published in job advertisements to ensure greater transparency and better-informed decision-making.
However, the Institution recognises that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to flexible working and that smaller businesses may need additional support.
Ruth added: “Organisations should determine what works best for the sustainable growth and development of their business. But this information needs to be shared with workers, so that they can understand the reasoning behind the decision and that reasonable alternatives had been explored. Good quality and tailored conversations that adapt are essential to managing and communication effectively in these situations.”
IOSH launched its Catch the Wave campaign in November, calling on businesses to ensure they put the needs and welfare of people first. The Institution says that business leaders need to act now to improve the social sustainability and long-term prosperity of their business, and build stronger, more sustainable communities around the world.
More information about the campaign can be found at iosh.com/catchthewave