Under the new legislation, employees who have been in service for 26 weeks or longer, whether parents or not, will have the right to request to work flexibly. The term describes a type of working arrangement which gives some degree of flexibility on how long, where, and when employees work.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has long been an advocate of the changes, with research consistently revealing many business benefits associated with flexible working, as explored in the organisation’s report ‘Flexible Working Provision and Uptake.’
Susannah Clements, CIPD deputy chief executive, says that extending the ‘right to request’ to all workers is a measure that recognises the complexities of modern working lives.
‘Employers need flexible workforces to meet the increasingly 24/7 needs of their global customer bases. And more and more employees find they need to able to build some flexibility into their working patterns at different times during their working lives, be that to accommodate childcare, caring for sick or elderly relatives, study or other life events,’ she adds.
‘Line managers need to be helped to understand how flexible working options can be incorporated in a way that meets business needs, and to get the best out of more complex, less ‘nine-to-five’ teams – and HR professionals are well equipped to provide this support.’
Although many organisations already use flexible working, CIPD research reveals that take-up of some forms of flexible working are still very low – potentially limiting the talent pool of workers that firms are able to recruit from.
‘If management skills can be raised sufficiently to maximise the upsides of a more flexible workforce, instead of allowing managers to see the new regulations as a threat, this change can help drive increases in productivity and competitiveness for firms and the wider economy,’ says Clements.
Many organisations have already implemented flexible working and have allowed all employees to request flexible working long before this change in the law.
However, under the new right to request extension, businesses will be supported by government guidance and will now have to provide a ‘business reason’ for saying no to a flexible working request, eg if they can’t cover a particular shift.
CIPD research shows that reasons for refusal include customer demand (39 per cent), inability to reorganise work (30 per cent) and impact on performance (16 per cent).
However, around 73 per cent of employers report that when they do offer flexible working, it has a positive impact on staff motivation and engagement, and over three quarters feel it also helps them retain staff.
Neil Pickering, director at workforce management company Kronos says, ‘There’s no doubt that the change in law will create a more motivated, flexible and talented workforce. Flexible working hours can reduce unhappiness in the workplace, improve staff retention and boost employee engagement, which in turn boosts productivity.
‘It also enables employers to attract and retain more staff, while also widening the pool of talent in the labour market, helping to drive growth.’