It’s been 27 years since the Employment Rights Act changed the UK’s work environment, and spring 2024 will see the first significant amendments to the bill come into effect. From summer this year UK workers will be able to request flexible working from day one of a new job. Currently employees must be employed for at least 26 weeks before they’re able to make a flexible working request. Changes also include:
Permission to make two statutory requests in any 12 month period, as opposed to the existing one request
Businesses will need to respond to requests within two months, rather than the current three months deadline
Employers will need to consult with an employee before rejecting a flexible working request
What’s more, the amendment will require employers to provide a substantial reason for any flexible working request rejection. While this may not seem like a huge stride for some businesses, there are otherwise no consultation requirements under the current policy.
The new flexible working act covers working hours ranging from part-time, term-time, flexi-time and compressed hours, as well as the adjustment of start and finish times to support work and home responsibilities. Alongside impacting the when for employees, the bill also impacts the where, taking into consideration location of work.
People Management report the policy does not create an automatic right to flexible working. In essence, the only thing the bill guarantees for employees is the right to request flexible working. It’s important to note that it doesn’t amend the existing statutory grounds for refusing a flexible working request, such as:
The burden of additional costs
Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
Inability to reorganise work among existing staff
Inability to recruit additional staff
Detrimental impact on quality
Detrimental impact on performance
Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
Why it’s important
According to research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), “6 percent of employees changed jobs last year specifically due to a lack of flexible options, and 12 percent left their profession altogether due to a lack of flexibility within the sector. This represents almost 2 and 4 million workers respectively”. They go on to report, “65% of employers provide some kind of flexibility to their front-line workers. However, there’s significant unmet demand from workers for more flexible hours arrangements, such as flexitime, term-time working, compressed hours, job-sharingand annualised hours” (CIPD: Flexible and hybrid working practices in 2023).
The numbers are clear, professionals across sectors continue to prioritise flexible working, with many choosing to leave their role altogether if these needs aren’t met. Our 2024 Salary, Benefits and Skills Guide findings show 60% of employers plan to recruit in the next 12 months, and 45% of employees are considering changing jobs, so demand for talent remains high. The ongoing war for talent will hit businesses who do not provide flexible working options.
Whilst flexibility is key, it’s important that it works for both employer and employee to ensure business delivery is not affected and customer expectations are still managed effectively. Wired report, “The government decided against more radical proposals that would have brought about a significant legal shift, such as requiring all jobs to be flexible by default", says Colin Leckey, a partner in the employment team at law firm Lewis Silkin. "Employers can still say no to flexible working requests on the same basis as before, although they’re encouraged to deal with them more quickly and efficiently and have a more positive attitude to them"(Wired: The UK’s new flexible working law falls short).
Provide clarity and encourage honest conversations
Research published last year by coaching service Careering Into Motherhood found that 38 percent of working mothers had not asked for any flexible work, with 46 percent believing that asking for it impacted future opportunities for promotion (People Management: 2023 Working mums fear ‘fake’ flexibility as two fifths complete work tasks out of hours, study finds). To add to this, another study by Timewise found that while nearly half of UK workers would like to take advantage of the new rights to flexible working, 21% wouldn’t request it, and 30% remained unsure (Timewise: half of workers will consider using new Day One Flex rights. Are you ready?).
Putting the strength of the upcoming bill aside, there is clearly ambivalence across the UK’s workforce; there are no prizes for guessing this likely stems from existing stigma. For many businesses there is still work to do to ensure employees feel comfortable in exploring various working arrangements with their employer. It’s essential that employers encourage honest conversations and provide clarity on specific policies to manage expectations, accommodate personal needs and ensure that any request works for the employee, employer and customer demand.
For help and advice on your hiring strategy or if you’re considering a new career opportunity speak to one of our IDEX consultants who will be happy to help.