Millions of workers are predicted to take advantage of the announced enhancements to flexible working requests once these come into force – but what does this mean for employers?
First, we need to understand the driving force behind the change.
Flexible working was first introduced in 2003, albeit a much more limited version of what we see today. 20 years later, employees are still said to be facing certain challenges in seeking flexible working arrangements.
The pandemic, however, accelerated new ways of working and essentially forced the hands of employers to embrace flexible working arrangements as a necessity to keep business going throughout the challenging months that followed. This ‘shift’ in the way we work has highlighted the mutual benefits that can be gained from embracing greater flexibility.
Kevin Hollinrake, Minister for Enterprise, Markets and Small Business in describing the UK Government’s positioning on flexible working, states:
“Not only does flexible working help individuals fit work alongside other commitments – whether it’s the school drop-off, studying or caring for vulnerable friends and family – it’s good business sense too, helping firms to attract more talent, increase retention and improve workforce diversity.
In September 2021, the government announced plans to consult on a series of proposals, with the aim of reforming flexible working legislation. The outcome was announced in December 2022, and this confirmed for the first time, that flexible working would become a day-one right.
The following measures were also announced, and are now set to be adopted into the flexible working legislation:
*ACAS is also proposing to include an appeal process for rejected requests, as a ‘best practice’ measure.
As a result of the proposal receiving Royal Ascent on 14 July 2023, ACAS is also consulting on updating their Code of Practice in respect of flexible working.
Susan Clews, ACAS CEO comments that:
“The updated Code seeks to encourage a more positive approach to flexible working, through a new Foreword to the Code and an emphasis on fostering an environment in which requests are not rejected by default without open-minded consideration and meaningful dialogue.”
It is important to note that no changes will be made to the nine reasons an employer can use to reject a flexible working request, such as the impact on quality and the burden of costs.
Many employers now recognise that offering flexible working is part of the modern way of working, many already offer remote working, part-time hours, flexible leave, and job sharing. However there are still many employers who have not embraced flexible working, and if they want to remain competitive within their sectors, this is not an issue that can be ignored forever. Ahead of the new legislation coming into effect, employers are encouraged to get ahead of the curve and to start thinking about flexible working arrangements now.
A common concern among businesses is that flexible working will have a negative impact on productivity and performance. This is largely down to communication, and the misconception that it may be more difficult to communicate with those who are working flexibly, or remotely. Since the pandemic, IT solutions have risen to the challenge of remote working with a plethora of technologies enabling businesses and co-workers to stay in contact easily. As part of any flexible working policy, it will be important for businesses to examine what tools they will use to ensure that this does not impact them.
The positives have been noted time and time again throughout research:
Employees often feel more in control of their work/life balance, providing greater freedom to work around their busy lives. Happier workers often result in increased productivity and reduced levels of sickness absence. 9 out of 10 employees report that flexible working helps them to improve their productivity at work.
It’s a competitive recruitment market out there. Candidates are demanding more flexible working patterns in the modern day, and by providing this, employers will be able to tap into a larger pool of highly skilled workers and will be more likely to retain this talent within their business. Research by Reed has found that jobseekers are increasingly searching for vacancies that offer flexible working options.
It may be possible to downsize business premises as a result of flexible working measures. Smaller offices mean lower overheads and more money to reinvest in other parts of the business.
Flexible working can undoubtedly offer a range of benefits to employers. Research has shown that it enhances recruitment and retention, cuts absence rates, increases staff motivation, increases diversity, and reduces overheads. Despite these proven benefits, we are still experiencing a stigma around flexible working, with some employers believing that flexible workers are less productive, or contribute less than those who don’t work flexibly. Many managers also feel that they will be held back from promotion opportunities as a result of flexible working.
In order to break down these barriers, and prepare for this new, even more flexible way of working, it will be critical for businesses to plan ahead. Effective communication tools, a proactive approach, and open discussions will all go a long way in changing the perceptions of both employers and employees alike. In embracing these changes, businesses look set to reap the benefits of this new way of working.
The new flexible working legislation received Royal Ascent in July 2023 and is set to become law in 2024. It will be critical for employers and management teams to understand the implications of flexible working decisions and how to handle these correctly. Whilst we await the upcoming legislative changes, employers may wish to take steps to ensure that their flexible working policy is ready for these changes.
If we can help you with reviewing your policies please get in touch.