Flexible working could provide valuable health benefits to staff

Employees may be putting their health at risk by sticking to inflexible working hours

A joint academic study conducted by the University of Surrey and Northwestern University has revealed traditional working hours could create serious health risks for certain employees. The study claims that although ‘early risers’ have little problem with the typical nine to five routine, ‘night owls’ that are forced to stick to the same schedule face the prospect of increased mortality rates.

Researchers have advised organisations to acknowledge that certain staff may be better suited to alternative shift patterns and offer the option of flexible working. They claim allowing these individuals the opportunity to have a lie and start work later can minimise psychological stress that impacts exercise and eating habits.

Sleep deprivation has been linked to a rise in heart disease, diabetes, addiction and mental health disorders, with the papers co-author Prof. Malcom von Schantz declaring the matter a “public health issue that can no longer be ignored”. Lack of sleep can also lead to a financial loss for an organisation, costing the UK economy an estimated total of £40 billion a year in reduced productivity and health according to a study by Rand Europe.

Under UK legislation all employees have a right to request flexible working after completing 26 weeks’ service with their employer. Requests should be made in writing and clearly state what change in working conditions is being sought. Organisations should follow the statutory code of practice on dealing with requests reasonably, which includes discussing the request with the employee. Employers may refuse a request providing the refusal is based on one of the legally permitted reasons.

Organisations should avoid dismissing requests for flexible working without due consideration to avoid being caught out. If the individual making the request suffers from a disability, refusing a request may amount to a failure to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.

When analysing the feasibility of flexible working practices organisations are encouraged to consider how it can benefit their workforce. As well as the aforementioned health benefits, allowing for flexible working can provide greater gender equality for working mothers with ongoing childcare commitments. It can also play a significant role in the engagement of employees as it shows a commitment to acknowledging their needs. Organisations should therefore also consider the important role flexible working practices can play in attracting and retaining talent.

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