Eighteen months into the great “working from home” experiment – one that still sees one-in-five staff spend the majority of their week at home – it was almost inevitable that workplace legislation needed to catch-up and enshrine flexible working for any new joiners from the get-go.
And catch-up it appears to be doing. Today saw the publication of a consultation document by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), outlining its ambition to allow employees to request flexible working from day one of starting their new job.
Currently, to even request flexible working (a request that may still not be granted), staff need to have given a minimum of six months’ service. But this stipulation has increasingly been seen as outdated, especially since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the government’s consultation, a full gamut of flexible working options are now available for staff to request – everything from flexi-time; reduced/compressed hours; working from home and job shares.
Pre-pandemic, the TUC found one in three flexible working requests were actually turned down. But since Covid-19, preconceptions about working from home or working more flexibly have dramatically changed.
“Businesses have learnt a huge amount about the pros and cons of flexible working during the pandemic, with many firms expecting to receive more formal and informal requests in the future,” observed Matthew Fell, chief policy director at the CBI. He added: “Employers do support giving employees the right to request flexible working from day one in the job.”
The proposal follows the CIPD’s "Flex from 1st" campaign launched earlier this year, which revealed 46% of employees said they had no access to flexible working arrangements as part of their current role.
According to the CIPD’s analysis, workers in South East England currently have the best flexible working options, followed by the East of England, while workers in the Yorkshire and Humber are least likely to have flexibility in their role.
Critics will say any changes are only a right to “request” – not an automatic right to flexible working, and businesses can pick from a list of seven reasons to turn a request down. Employers can also sit on a request for up to three months before answering it. But overall the news has been welcomed.
The CIPD’s chief executive Peter Cheese said: “We believe a day one right to request flexible working will help broaden the accessibility of all types of flexible working, including flexibility in hours as well as location. In turn, this will boost inclusion, wellbeing and performance which is beneficial to both employers and employees alike."
Flexibility from day one particularly matters for young people and parents. “Data shows flexibility enables a third of young people to accept employment opportunities by working remotely that they wouldn’t have been able to accept before,” says James Uffindell, CEO of graduate network Bright Network. “Almost a quarter of graduates say the main benefit of working remotely is flexibility in where they live.”
While research by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission highlighted 40% of mothers didn’t even make a request for flexible working for fear of being turned down.
What flexibility means to me: