31 Jul 2023

How do the UK’s new flexible working measures affect you?

employee doing flexible working small

So, the new flexible working bill has just passed royal assent, and will come into force in the UK next year. The government website has stated this change is designed to foster improved work-life balance and productivity, with the view that employee retention rates will increase accordingly.

In this blog post we will break down what the flexible working bill entails, and what this means for employers.

What is the new flexible working bill?

The push to reform flexible working culture originally found support in both the Conservative and Labour party manifestos back in 2019. Recently, a bill has been pushed through to give employees greater control over their working patterns via flexible working.

The law takes a broad approach to defining flexible working, encompassing various arrangements that cater to employees’ needs, including

These include

  • part-time schedules
  • remote work
  • flexitime
  • compressed hours

In conjunction with the new Flexible Working Act, Acas is reformulating their code of practice to guide the handling of workers’ flexibility requests. This initiative aims to foster a corporate culture where organisations are more receptive to accommodating flexible work arrangements.

What does the Flexible Working bill entail for employers?

Employees are able to make two requests

Your employees can put out two statutory requests for flexible working in any 12 month period, versus only one request at the moment.

Employers must now consult with their employees

You must directly consult with your employees before rejecting their flexible working request. The purpose of this is to enable the employee to personally set out the reasoning behind their flexible working request, so that some form of compromise on work habits may be reached with the employer.

The employee must receive a decision within two months

Your employees must receive a decision on the outcome of their flexible working request in two months, versus three months as was the case.

The employee does not have to explain how their request could be accommodated

The burden of explaining how their organisation could accommodate a flexible working request is no longer on the employee, whereas previously your employees had to ‘pitch’ a flexible work pattern.

Employees can put in a request on day one

Employees will also be able to request flexible working arrangements starting on their first day of employment. This represents a significant change from the current policy, where employees must be with an organisation for at least 26 weeks before they can make a request for flexible working arrangements.

What is a flexible working request?

A flexible working request is a legal right granted to employees (with some provisions) to formally apply to their employer, to change their work patterns, hours or location(s).

Flexible working requests, even under the new measures, do not guarantee flexible working patterns to the applicant. Some jobs, for instance, working in the serving industry or in a warehouse, that make flexible working down right impossible. The flexible working request is a tool of the office worker!

How should you prepare?

Employers may be daunted at the prospect of receiving flexible working requests left, right and centre, leaving them with an expensive to rent but empty office headquarters. HR professionals too face mountains of paperwork, with even shorter administrative deadlines, on top of regular workload.

No need to fear! These new measures give you the opportunity to blow dust off staid flexible work policies, and create a cohesive work culture that will allow your organisation to retain and attract employees.

The key takeaway of these measures is to instil a set policy on flexible work that is both specific and amenable to your employees, so that disruption caused by various flexible working requests is minimal. There is no requirement to totally reject a traditional work pattern and be at the complete mercy of your employees.

Instead try this simple, three step plan

Introduce a flexible working policy

The best way to retain control of your working culture is to embrace the situation. Offer a minimum policy of flexible work for all your employees, for instance three days a week in office, two remote. This allows you to get ahead of policy requests, whilst still accommodating your employees.

Publicise your policy

Advertise your flexible working policy. Stay away from vague terms like ‘open to flexiwork.’ Instead be clear from the get go what your specific policy is, as to remain transparent and allow your employees to understand exactly what working pattern they are committing to.

Talk flexibility in the hiring stage

Let your new hires know your policy. Give them the opportunity to discuss their hopes and desired working pattern before onboarding, so that you are both on the same page. Open communication allows formal flexible working requests (and a lot of paperwork for HR) to be avoided.