HR headache for firms as more staff ask for flexible working, Royds Withy King survey reveals

November 29, 2021
Firms encouraging their staff to return to the office are face an ‘avalanche’ of flexible working requests, according to a survey by Bath-headquartered law for Royds Withy King.
The survey asked HR professionals how the coronavirus pandemic had impacted on the workplace, particularly as homeworking has become widespread for the past 18 months. 

Responses from the 50 HR specialists quizzed by Royds Withy King’s employment law team found just over three-quarters of businesses had been focusing their efforts on encouraging staff to return to the office over the last couple of months.
However, 68% said staff did not want to return to the office full time, with 48% reporting an increase in flexible working requests as a result of their efforts.
Royds Withy King employment law team partner Lauren Harkin, pictured, said: “The desire to see people back in the office environment is understandable. Businesses make considerable investment in their office footprints and want to see them utilised. 
“Yet it is has been clearly demonstrated that a working pattern that includes both office and home-based working is entirely achievable for many businesses.”
She said businesses now face difficult decisions, particularly as the labour market heats up. 

“Will staff vote with their feet if they are made to return to the office on a permanent basis, or will they face, as our survey suggests, an increase in flexible working requests,” she added. 
The right to request flexible working is available for staff after six months service and employees can seek to change their hours, work location or days that they work on a permanent basis. 
However, that right can be triggered no more than once a year and the employer can refuse it for certain prescribed reasons. 
Lauren added: “The government is seeking to change that, making this right available from the very first day of employment, although we are still waiting to see the detail of the proposed reforms. 
“Extending this right would fundamentally change the relationship between staff and their employers and would be a significant step forward.”
HR professionals contributing to the survey pointed to clear benefits of having staff in the office, including “better collaboration and morale”, “increased awareness of what other teams are doing”, “better support and mentoring for junior staff”, and an “increased sense of belonging”.
But there was a reluctance from many staff to return full time – with concerns over safety, physical space, anxiety of being surrounded by so many people.
Lauren added: “In a tough employment market, businesses need to take every step possible to retain key members of staff and to attract new talent. 
“Businesses with flexible working patterns may well find it easier to do both, and at the same time really embed their business’ culture – something that has been difficult to achieve as a result of the pandemic. 
“We would encourage employers to engage with staff to explore the best options and approach for everyone rather than adopt a single blanket policy.”
Royds Withy King, which employs 480 people across its office network, successfully operates hybrid flexible working arrangements with staff encouraged to spend two days in the office each week.

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