Employees to be given flexible working rights from first day

The new legislation gives employees the right to ask for flexible working from day one and shortens the employer's response time

UK employees will have the right to ask for part-time or flexible hours from day one on the job.

From April 6, 2024, employees will have enhanced rights over when and how they work. Not only can they request for part-time or flexible working, they can also ask for:

  • Term time
  • Flexi-time
  • Job sharing
  • Compressed hours
  • Adjustment to start and finish times

The move will also allow employees to make two flexible working requests in any 12-month period rather than the current once in any 12-month period. The deadline for employers to respond will also be shortened to two months (down from three) and employers will be required to explore all of their options before rejecting a request.

It seems to be popular among workers already. A new study from Slack reveals that more than half (55 per cent) of employees are planning to make a new request for flexible working when new rules come into law.

“Giving staff more say over their working pattern makes for happier employees and more productive businesses,” said Minister of State for Enterprise, Markets and Small Business, Kevin Hollinrake. “Put simply, it’s a no-brainer. Greater flexibility over where, when, and how people work is an integral part of our plan.”

However, Slack found that 57 per cent of managers are concerned about receiving new and more requests for flexible working. Meanwhile, a staggering 72 per cent of businesses have not yet proactively shared information on the latest rules with their employees.  

>See also: Is flexible working more valuable to employees than a pay rise?

What should small business owners do about the new rules?

Get ready – and fast. First off, familiarise yourself with requests you may receive and the reasons that you can decline. These are:

  • Extra costs that will damage the business
  • The work cannot be reorganised among other staff
  • People cannot be recruited to do the work
  • Flexible working will affect quality and performance
  • The business will not be able to meet customer demand
  • There’s a lack of work to do during the proposed working times
  • The business is planning changes to the workforce

The rest comes down to putting the right policies and measures in place. This includes stating what you can and can’t accommodate in your job adverts.

A survey by flexible working consultancy, Timewise, found that only three posts in ten were advertised as flexible, including arrangements such as job sharing or adjusted hours according to employee needs, as well as part-time or remote work.

Only 12 per cent of jobs advertised were open to part-time work which is the most in-demand type of flexible working. What’s more, the proportion is much smaller in high-paid roles. Timewise said this excludes many single parents from the market or keeps them “trapped in jobs below their skill level.”

It’s worth shouting about the flexibility you can offer. A sizeable 43 per cent of Brits said they would not apply for an advertised job if the description didn’t explicitly state that it was flexible, according to a study from Currys.

Once you’ve hired the employee, the next challenge is onboarding. Jeanette Wheeler, chief human resources officer at MHR, said: “The onboarding period is a critical stage of employment, and factors such as team integration, performance feedback, job-related training and understanding of company culture could be greatly impacted by new starters working at home or on a different time schedule to peers.

“With the introduction of these new rights, companies will have to consider what works for them, and how they can continue to create the most productive and engaging environment for their employees in the new era of work,” she added.

Frank Weishaupt, CEO of Owl Labs, added: “Managers need to empower their teams by allowing them to control their work location based on their daily task list. Managers also play a key role in setting hybrid working expectations for junior staff by guiding them on which tasks require in-person interaction or are better completed at home.

“This ensures that the whole team benefits from a schedule that suits them rather than simply mandating employees to return to the office. Organisations that adopt a task-based approach to RTO mandates will build happier and more engaged teams.”

>See also: Top tips for flexible working businesses – Here, home based business owners share their tips for success in a flexible working environment

“Moving forward, businesses should take the time to consider the level of flexibility that will be granted to their staffers and equip themselves with the correct tools and infrastructure to facilitate it,” Sridhar Iyengar, MD for Zoho Europe, explains. “This means introducing data-secure collaboration platforms and cloud environments for efficient working from all locations.”

Read more

Flexible working from day one – what it means for SMEs – The Government is pressing ahead with a consultation to give everyone the right to request flexible working from the first day in a job

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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Flexible Working