13 Suggestions to Create a More Flexible Workforce

In the current economic climate, one of the biggest challenges for small and medium sized businesses is ensuring you create a flexible workforce which can be utilised in as cost effective a way as possible. This generally means ensuring that you can deploy your staff flexibly to where they are needed at a time and place which is best for your business.

However this has often proven to be difficult for businesses where standard job descriptions and contracts of employment have meant that staff work rigidly and will not agree to be flexible. So can anything be done about this? The answer is yes it can and we will look at 13 suggestions for ways you can improve the flexibility of your workforce.

  1. Flexible Contract of Employment – Ensure when you employ new staff that the contract you offer them builds in the flexibility you need for your business. This should include:
  2. A mobility clause – to allow you to move staff to another location if necessary
  3. A movement clause – to allow you to move your staff to other reasonable day to day work if required
  4. A short-time working clause – to provide for a temporary reduction in contractual days in a week, or hours in a day.
  5. A lay-off clause – to provide for a time when you temporarily cannot provide any work for the employee
  6. Implementing these arrangements – these clauses must be part of your employees contract, or must have been significant custom and practice, before they can be legally implemented (unless you get the agreement of your workforce to implement these arrangements perhaps in avoidance of redundancies).  Similarly either you will need an explicit arrangement in the contract, or an agreement with the workforce in relation to stopping or reducing their pay during lay-offs and short-term working. Acas produce a useful leaflet on this which can be found here.
  7. Flexible Working Arrangements – consider implementing working arrangements for your staff which maximise your flexibility to profile your workforce to the busy and slack periods of workload. Here are some options to think about:
  8. Annualised hours – where if your business has major peaks and troughs throughout the year, you might look at averaging out hours across the year for some or all employees whereby they would work reduced hours during quiet times, and increased hours during peaks. The employee would be paid in equal installments throughout the year, with no entitlement to overtime or enhanced payments during busy periods. Implementing such an arrangement can be somewhat complex and must comply with the Working Time Regulations.
  9. Utilise zero-hours and / or agency workers – this can form a very useful source of additional workers to cover for example seasonal peaks in workload. Zero hours contracts are where staff agree to be available for work but do not have any set number of hours / times of work specified; they can also refuse any work offered. A good relationship with an agency who know your requirements can also help you to get staff in at short notice. You could also of course employ part-time staff and offer them additional hours at busy times, but they have no requirement to work these extra hours (unless you make a contractual commitment to providing them with these hours). Here is a zero-hours contract template.
  10. Introduce a Time-off-in-Lieu system (TOIL) – whereby additional hours worked during busy times are given back as time off during quieter periods – normally all TOIL is paid at basic rates. This needs a careful policy to ensure there is clarity about when TOIL or overtime is used.
  11. Outsource some work – it might be possible to push out some work to a third party at busy times – this can be an expensive option, but can ensure you meet your needs while someone else takes the strain. Simple administrative work can often be treated in this way. Similarly could you share some services with another business which might be a suitable arrangement as long as both don’t have the same peaks and troughs – a joint accounts department for example.
  12. Train your staff to be flexible – often staff undertake a very narrow job description, and when their work is slack, but other parts of the business are pushed, it makes sense to be able to re-deploy them to busy areas of the business. If this requires them to have received specific training to do so, then it is generally very cost-effective to have them undertake the training and so enhance their flexibility.
  13. Acas have produced a useful guide on flexible working and work-life balance which is well worth a look. You will find it here.


(Article updated March 2018)

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