Could flexible working be more accepted in future work environments?
Contrary to popular belief Flexible working is not limited to traditional notions of flexi-time. In fact, there are 14 officially recognised forms of flexible working and where appropriate these can bring benefits to employer and employees alike.
Clearly, in environments where production output relies on employees operating machinery, or where they must be available to customers at certain times of day, many forms of flexible working are not appropriate. However, there are circumstances and flexible working practices, as identified below, which can be beneficial.
Workers have the freedom to work in any way they choose outside a set core of hours determined by the employer. Flexitime is not so popular within the print industry and with shift working and productivity depending on operators running machines, it is easy to see why. The argument can be extended to pre-press and even customer-facing roles where phones need to be manned. It is unfortunate that it is this type of flexible working that typically springs to mind and the reason flexible working is often discounted without further thought.
One full-time job is split between two workers who agree the hours between them. Although not applicable to shift work job sharing can work in most other areas. Most often found in admin & reception roles, it can be useful in areas where there is a shortage of specific skills; accessing people who perhaps are not able to work normal full-time hours.
Workers are contracted to work less than standard, basic, full-time hours. In many businesses, there are roles which do not justify a full-time person. Our experience of the print industry shows that quite a number of companies are already taking advantage of this with part-time workers particularly in functions like accounts.
Workers have a different start, finish and break times, allowing a business to open longer hours. Almost a form of shift working staggered hours are very popular in retail environments and also could be highly beneficial in the print industry. In customer-facing roles where just in time deliveries are called for, the advantages of providing cover for longer periods are straight forward. However, in other areas such as pre-press providing cover early in the morning and into the evening can cut costly press downtime without having to resort to “call-outs” or overtime. Having all workers present in the centre of the day can also provide for peak productivity within the area.
Compressed working hours
Workers can cover their total number of hours in fewer working days. Clearly compressed hours are very beneficial in project-oriented environments working to specific launches or deadlines. However, it can also be a valuable benefit to employees in the run-up to specific holiday periods like Christmas.
Workers arrange shifts amongst themselves, provided all required shifts are covered.
Most environments where shifts are worked will have informal shift swapping as part and parcel of day to day life. Invariably it is effective but can occasionally lead to friction where one person believes the “favour” has not been returned. Depending on the environment introducing something from guidelines or rules through to a formal system can help to maintain harmony.
Workers nominate the shifts they’d prefer, leaving you to compile shift patterns matching their individual preferences while covering all required shifts.
Self rostering is not common in the print industry although there are clearly people who, for personal reasons prefer particular shifts. Of course, if an employer is lucky enough to find a range of individuals whose preferences manage to fill all of the there required shifts it is perfect. However, this seldom happens in reality and it can be difficult to mange
Time off in lieu (TOIL)
Workers take time off to compensate for extra hours worked.
With seasonal or businesses which experience significant peaks and troughs in business time off in lieu can be the most cost-effective way to reward employees for extra hours worked. Again many, particularly smaller, employers have informal arrangements for this but there is no doubt that looked at strategically in the right sort of businesses it can significantly reduce costs.
A worker remains on a permanent contract but can take paid/unpaid leave during school holidays.
Unless working for a company that prints posters for “anti-school run” campaigners, term-time working can be very difficult to accommodate in the print industry. Of course, there are circumstances where it can be accommodated but realistically many businesses simply cannot afford for their labour force to be reduced during periods which don’t relate to customer demand.
Workers’ contracted hours are calculated over a year.
For seasonal businesses, in particular, annualized hours can be very effective. Already adopted by a number of print and packaging businesses allowing longer working weeks during peak periods, without resorting to overtime and short working weeks at quiet times it is effectively a very sophisticated form of time off in lieu.
Workers agree to reduce their hours for a fixed period with a guarantee of full-time work when this period ends.
Other than periods when companies have gone on to “short time” working during troughs in demand to minimize costs, we have not seen this in the print industry. Again, potentially it would be applicable to seasonal businesses but that would suggest that there were sufficient workers to cope with the peaks on normal time. So perhaps companies would be better off with annualized hours and slightly fewer staff.
Workers work only the hours they are needed. Zero-hours contracts do not appeal to the bulk of potential employees; perhaps only those in semi-retirement or that do not need a constant income. This can be an important sector, however. The print industry has an ageing workforce and currently still needs to find the next generation and importantly pass off the knowledge and skills of experienced workers. Whilst perhaps not required full time accessing valuable skills for specific work or training offers a huge benefit to employers.
Workers spend all or part of their week working from home or somewhere else away from the employer’s premises. Of course, you aren’t going to find a B1 press minder working from home but with the increase in broadband access, many roles can now be fulfilled remotely. We are all used to sales staff working from home and in areas where travel to an office can be difficult, whether through congestion, physical distance or even poor winter weather, home working can be a significant benefit. However long term home working can cause problems with employees feeling isolated; despite the technology when considering communication employers shouldn’t overlook the value of the informal networks and relationships, the team spirit and cohesion which are usually very valuable in a business.
Workers are allowed to take an extended period of time off, either paid or unpaid. Career breaks are still rare. Sometimes employees will look to take a break to enroll in some form of full-time education and some employers will recognize the value in that. However few will see the business benefit in backpacking in Peru. There are arguments that on their return the employees will be more motivated but realistically few businesses can afford to cover an absent employee for an extended period and then welcome them back, perhaps a year out of touch with the industry, into the same role. Indeed it is difficult enough for many businesses to deal with the disruption of pregnancy and one of the most beneficial aspects of recent changes to maternity leave is the provision for mothers to have an increased number of “keeping in touch or update days” at work during maternity leave without losing maternity benefit.
There are many options for flexible working and if employers take a positive look at these and consider how they could benefit their business there is no doubt many will be surprised. The traditional view is that flexible working is an inconvenience that will disrupt the business and in some cases this is true, but there are employers who have embraced the methods that suit their business and have reduced their overall costs as a result. Employees too have benefited from working arrangements which suit their lifestyle and give them access to employment.
As much as anything, for the sake of maintaining competitiveness the industry, employees and employers, need to shake off the blinkers and look at all the options for advantage. Everyone wins when the industry is strong and vibrant.