What will the Flexible Working Act mean for working carers?

flexible working bill carers
  • From 2024, employees will be able to request flexible working hours and patterns twice in a 12-month period and will not have to explain any potential effect on their employer. Organisations will have to consider all requests and provide a reason before rejection within two months.
  • Being able to request flexible working should eliminate any stress, anxiety or worry for employees trying to balance work with caring responsibilities.
  • Those who are unable to work due to childcare costs will feel more confident in applying for jobs that are not compatible with caring responsibilities.

In July 2023, the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill received Royal Assent. From 2024, UK workers will have the right to request flexible working twice in a 12-month period and do not have to explain any potential effect on their employer. Organisations will be required to consider all requests and provide a reason before rejection within two months. In light of this, what will this mean for working carers?

Improved work-life balance

Granting the right to request flexible-working arrangements helps recognise the challenges working carers face and ensures employers are seriously considering requests on an individual basis. This will assist in creating more supportive and open workplaces, so they feel comfortable discussing their caregiving needs and responsibilities.

Offering flexible working from the outset will help working carers strike a better work-life balance and provide opportunities for them to cater their working hours to their caregiving duties, says Ronan Harvey-Kelly, business lead at Seniorcare By Lottie.

“The [act] will mean that those caring for older family members will be able to tailor their work schedules to accommodate their ever-changing caregiving needs, which will undoubtedly have a positive impact on their wellbeing needs and happiness at work,” he explains.

The ability to request flexible-working arrangements should ease any feelings of stress, anxiety or worry from working carers. For those trying to balance work and caring commitments, access to greater flexibility will be a genuine lifeline.

Adapting start and finish times might allow a caregiver to balance visits around meal times or attend medical appointments, while remote working could enable them to work from the friend or family member’s home without impacting their productivity, says Denise Priest, executive director Work and Family Solutions at Bright Horizons.

“The [act] rightly shines a much-needed spotlight on the lack of support offered to thousands of working carers; more people than ever before will be able to work in a way that suits their needs,” she says.

Addressing workplace issues

For working carers, the act will open the door to career progression opportunities that may not have otherwise been possible. It also gives employers access to a wider talent pool so they can recruit candidates who might have been unable to commit to the role without flexible working arrangements.

Many carers have been forced out of the workforce due to childcare costs, so this will help them feel more confident in returning to work and applying for jobs that might not have been compatible with caring responsibilities, says Sarah Hesz, co-founder of Bubble.

“The [act] is an acknowledgement that the way we work has changed and that striving for a more inclusive workplace is critical to becoming a better business,” she says. “It’s a reflection of the modern world and will help those with caring responsibilities feel able to find a flexible working solution that fits their needs.”

By accommodating the personal needs and responsibilities of a working carer and reducing stress, employers will benefit from increased productivity and loyalty, says Priest. “It is significant progress, but there’s always more that can be done.”

Additional support

However, flexible working may not be possible in some roles. This is where employers should consider alternative support, such as pairing working carers with mentors or coaches, providing training on caregiving-related issues, and signposting wellbeing support and resources for carers.

A back-up care programme provided by an employer enables working carers to work on a day they would have otherwise not been able to, and avoid using annual leave for medical appointments, emergencies or breakdowns in care.

“By providing a comprehensive range of work and family solutions, such as workplace nurseries, coaching and development, parental leave toolkits and back-up care, employers can make it easier for their employees to support their loved ones and flourish at work,” explains Priest.

Investing in subsidised childcare and eldercare will pay for itself in the productivity and wellbeing boost it delivers, says Hesz. In addition, enhanced parental leave and extended leave for premature babies are important.

Organisations should provide mental health support and internal workplace groups so working carers can open up about their responsibilities, says Harvey-Kelly.

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“Recognising their efforts and contributions through checking in regularly or expressing gratitude for their hard work goes a long way in boosting morale and reducing any stress,” he adds.

The introduction of the flexible working act will enable working carers to truly balance their work and caring responsibilities without having to take time off, and offer them comfort through the knowledge that they will be supported by their employer.