What is flexible working?

Flexible working is all the rage, but what is it - and can anyone do it?

What different types of flexible working are there?

Variable hours

'Variable hours' options cover flexitime, annualised hours, zero hours and time accounts.

Flexitime is when employees fit their hours around agreed core times. This is a good option if you want to avoid rush hour commutes or carry out the school run.

An annualised hours arrangement is when an employee agrees to work a set number of hours over a year in variable quantities. This works best where a business has peaks and troughs in demand.

Zero hours, which has been controversial, is a contract in which an employee effectively works on call. There is generally a mutual lack of obligation - the employer is not obliged to find work, and the employee is not obliged to accept what is offered.

A time account is a more flexible form of a compressed working week or annualised hours. An employee can build up time worked in order to have more time off. There needs to be an agreement not to build up too much holiday.

Restructured hours

Some workers may want to compress their working week. For example, they may wish to work four 10-hour days and have the Friday off. It can also mean working a nine day fortnight, working longer hours over two weeks to have an extra day off every other week.

Reduced hours

Working reduced hours can mean working part-time, job-sharing, working in term-time, or a phased retirement.

Some employees may want to move to working part-time. This is particularly popular for women returning from maternity leave or men wanting to take a greater role in caring for their children.

Job sharing is a form of working part-time but with two or more people sharing a single role. While fifty-fifty splits are common, most employers prefer having both workers having one day of work in common to hand work over to one another more effectively. Job-sharing is relatively rare in the workforce.

Term-time working is when an employee only works when their children are at school. Such contracts specify the amount of time off an employee can have (usually nine to ten weeks) with paid leave being taken during school holiday. Together these would add up to the usual 13 weeks of school holiday.

Phased retirement is when an employee doesn't want to completely stop working once they reach their retirement, but slowly cut down the number of hours they want to work instead.

Leave options

Maternity leave has been around forever, but paternity leave has become an option for men to take time off to care for newborns.

Sabbaticals and career breaks are increasingly popular for workers looking for extended time off from work to pursue such things as study, writing a book, or some other form of personal development. Employers may find this a valuable way of retaining prized staff. One successful example of this is at Dennis Publishing (IT Pro's parent company), where after five years' work, staff get six weeks' time off fully paid.

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