Business

Flexible working plays a key role in helping to attract, engage and retain employees

Recruitment remains one of the biggest challenges for the north's hospitality sector
Recruitment remains one of the biggest challenges for the north's hospitality sector Recruitment remains one of the biggest challenges for the north's hospitality sector

A NEW industry report commissioned by the NI Hotels Federation and released at its recent Hospitality Exchange showed that while the hospitality industry here has bounced back quicker than other regions in the UK, recruitment remains one of its biggest challenges.

The report outlines the risks, constraints and challenges facing hospitality businesses – including the continued staffing challenges, with chef and housekeeping areas of the sector worst impacted.

Staff shortages will almost always impact businesses in other ways – not least the employees who might have to work extra hours to fill the gaps and can be left feeling demotivated, disengaged and unhappy – and potentially looking for new employment elsewhere. Therefore, it’s more important than ever for employers to be mindful of a healthy work-life balance and introduce appropriate employment practices to help staff achieve this.

Taking some simple, yet effective steps and introducing employment policies to encourage a better work-life balance will see lots of benefits for employees and employers alike – for example, increased staff morale, dedicated and happier employees, a reduction in staff turnover and absence, more flexibility amongst teams and the business would be recognised as an attractive place of work – ultimately attracting, engaging and retaining talent.

Knowing what to offer employees is a perfect formula as all businesses are different and it very much depends on the operational needs of the business and employees themselves. Communication is key here and it is always a good idea for management and staff to have an open conversation on what could help achieve a better work-life balance.

An important part of achieving a better work-life balance for many, is flexible working.

Employees have the right to request flexible working and employers have a legal duty to give it serious consideration.

Under current UK law, employees can only request flexible working after 26 weeks of employment and can make one request in each 12 month period. Employed agency workers returning to work from a period of parental leave also have the right to request flexible working. It is important that all employers are aware that a flexible working request is open to all those who meet the eligibility requirements and it is not restricted to parents and carers.

When planning to implement a flexible working policy, businesses will need to consider a number of things including:

• What flexible working arrangements will suit the needs of the business?

• Are there jobs that might be difficult to do under such an arrangement?

• If so, what is the nature of the obstacle and can it be overcome and

• How will applications be dealt with?

Before introducing a flexible working policy, consult your employees as this will give them a better understanding of how the arrangements may impact the business and will also make them feel included as part of the process.

An employee’s application should be made in writing setting out their desired work pattern and how they think you can accommodate it. The employer should acknowledge receipt of the request in writing. All statutory flexible working requests must be seriously considered with the aim of deciding whether the business can accommodate the requested work pattern.

Under the statutory procedure, you should hold a meeting with the employee to discuss their request. If you can’t accommodate the requested working pattern, you might be in a position to explore other mutually suitable alternatives.

If you decide that you cannot accommodate any kind of flexible working for an employee, you must write to them stating which of the listed business ground(s) apply as to why you cannot accept the request, provide an explanation of why the business reasons apply in the circumstances and set out the appeal procedure.

Flexible working is something employers should be considering as part of their attract, engage and retain strategy and by communicating this approach to employees now, it will no doubt be mutually beneficial for both parties going forward.

:: Chris Ross (chris.ross@mckees-law.com) is managing partner of commercial law firm McKees (www.mckees-law.com)