When the Flexible Working Bill received Royal Assent last week, many commentators, particularly parental rights campaigners, hailed this as a huge step forward.
In a nutshell, the new legislation makes several changes to the way flexible working requests will work in practice, including:
- Giving employees the right to make two flexible working requests in a 12-month period, instead of one.
- Removing the need for employees to explain how the request will impact their role and how this could be overcome should their request be granted.
- Reducing the time in which employers must respond to a request from three months to two.
- Requiring managers to consult with the employee before they can refuse a request.
Missing from the final legislation, however, was the stipulation giving all employees the right to submit a flexible working request from day one in a role. Instead, the government has indicated it is likely to legislate for this at a later date.
Sign up to our newsletters
Receive news and guidance on a range of HR issues direct to your inbox
While the new legislation does not grant more employees the right to work flexibly, it does go some way towards easing the process of applying to do so. A number of employees, for example, may have struggled to explain how their requested working pattern would have impacted their role and the steps needed to mitigate this. Removing the need for this justification, therefore, may well mean some individuals feel more confident in submitting a request than previously.
Despite the largely positive reception, however, some commentators have questioned how much of the difference the legislation will ultimately make, given that it doesn’t directly entitle more employees to the right to work flexibly.
According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, demand for flexibility is rising, with 8.7 million full-time employees stating they would like to work flexibly. Overall, there are approximately 400,000 people who are unable to work unless they find a part-time or flexible role. Unsurprisingly, much of the demand for flexibility is driven by caring responsibilities. With some organisations committed to increasing the number of days per week employees are required to work from the office, many individuals may well also consider submitting a flexible-working request to enable them to retain a greater degree of remote or homeworking.
Opening up flexibility could also help older generations return to the workforce, or make it easier for some to enter a phased retirement. Younger generations, such as Millennials, meanwhile, have been quite open in their desire for flexibility from their employer. Facilitating flexible working for such cohorts, therefore, could significantly expand the potential talent pools available to an employer.
Some organisations are ahead of the curve when it comes to offering flexibility for staff. Last week, for example, Lloyds Banking Group unveiled its new Flexibility Works policy, giving staff access to a wide range of flexible working options.
Whatever an organisation’s view of the updated flexible working legislation, it is clear that employees’ demand for flexibility is unlikely to diminish. Taking steps to accommodate this where possible, therefore, is likely to work in employers’ favours, particularly in tight recruitment markets.