Earlier this year, the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill achieved Royal assent. According to the bill, workers will now benefit from the following protections:
- Employers must consult with the employee before rejecting flexible working requests
- Employees can now make two statutory requests in any 12-month period, rather than one.
- Requests can be made from day one of a new job, rather than the previous 26-week qualifying period.
- Decisions on requests must be made in two months rather than three.
- Employees are no longer required to explain what effect, if any, the change applied for would have on the employer or propose how that might be dealt with.
The bill is a huge step forward in allowing employees more flexibility with their working hours, patterns and environment and reflects the growing demand for changes to the organisation of workplaces.
Last year, around two million people changed jobs and four million workers left their profession altogether due to a lack of flexibility. Evidently, calls for flexible working have been in high demand for a while. COVID-19 completely transformed the way people work, with remote and flexible working becoming the standard practice for most employees throughout the two years. Since coming out of lockdown, more than a third of UK workers claimed they ‘would quit if told to return to the office full-time’.
Research shows that, not only does flexible working improve the chances of employees remaining in the sector, but it may also increase productivity, motivation and wellbeing.
What does gender have to do with it?
The UK is the third-most expensive country for childcare in the world. In January, the Coram Family and Childcare (CFC) revealed that 72% of local authorities have seen providers in their areas increase prices charged to parents, as the cost of living crisis in the UK hits families across the country hard. Working Families, the UK’s national charity for working parents and carers, found that 4 in 10 working parents on lower incomes have gone into debt to pay for childcare.
With the accessibility of childcare for parents rapidly diminishing, parents are relying on flexible working to remain in employment. Women in particular are vulnerable to missing out on career opportunities because of a lack of flexible working options. Research by Working Families shows that women are more likely to work part-time, around childcare duties, but that only a tiny percentage of senior positions are held by part-time workers, meaning that women are largely excluded from representation higher up. Moreover, The Fawcett Society recently found that two-fifths of working mothers confessed to having turned down a promotion or career development opportunity due to concerns that it would not fit in with their childcare arrangements.
Working Families suggest that employers’ commitment to flexible working includes a wider availability and promotion of part-time and job share options, in order to reduce the gender seniority gap and make flexible working the norm in senior roles. Moreover, proactively encouraging these part-time and job-share roles for male staff will ensure they are not just seen as options for women, but for everyone.
The Flexible Working Bill presents new opportunities for organisations to evolve and expand their talent pool, increase retention and improve workforce diversity. It is a step towards creating the ‘genuinely family-friendly cultures’ that the Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society claims is necessary in all businesses. It will come into force in 2024.
In the meantime, Acas have issued advice for making a flexible working request – read it here.
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