UK unveils new flexible work plan

Business leaders in the UK have welcomed government proposals that will allow employees the right to request flexible working on the first day they start work.

Stock photograph of a professional Asian woman, in her office, looking at a see through display with a team of people making a conference call.
The plans, published on Thursday by the Department for Business, will allow 2.2 million more people the right to request flexible working, according to official estimates.Proposals for a consultation on the plan were first outlined by the Conservative Party in 2019 but now the effects of the pandemic, which have forced many companies to adopt home and hybrid working, have brought the subject into much closer focus.At present, employers cannot even request flexible arrangements until they have worked for at least six months. The new proposals would force business chiefs to respond to such requests more quickly than the current maximum of three months. Firms would also have to explain for the first time why requests were refused.Plans for the consultation will centre on a range of flexible working methods such as job-sharing, flexitime, compressed, annualised and staggered hours, as well as phased retirement, and not just on working from home.Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said, “Empowering workers to have more say over where and when they work makes for more productive businesses and happier employees.“It was once considered a ‘nice to have’, but by making requests a day one right, we’re making flexible working part of the DNA of businesses across the country."Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has found that 46% of employees do not have flexible working arrangements - such as flexi-time, part-time working, compressed hours or job shares - and that three-quarters backed the idea that staff who could not work from home should have employment flexibly in other ways.Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, welcomed the government's announcement of a consultation over the latest plan and said it was something his organisation had been pressing for.
“Learning from the pandemic, many organisations are now open to more hybrid ways of working which give their employees greater flexibility and say over where they work," he said."But the reality for those whose roles can only be done at their place of work - such as on construction sites, or in hospitals or warehouses - is that they often have very little flexibility in how they work.“Employees may not be able to change where they work, but they could have more choice and a say in when and how they work. Flexible working is good for inclusion, wellbeing and productivity, and will help employers attract and retain a more diverse workforce.“Better access to flexible working is an important step forward and the pandemic is acting as a catalyst. People have a higher expectation now of how working practices can be more flexible and supportive for the future. The HR and people profession has a vital role to play in helping employers develop the right culture and policies and in training managers to support a more flexible workforce.”Matthew Fell, chief policy director, at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), pointed out that businesses had learnt "a huge amount" about the advantages and drawbacks of flexible working during the pandemic, and that many firms were now expecting to receive more requests for changes in employment arrangements."Employers support giving employees the right to request flexible working from day one in the job," he said. But he added. "Companies want to work with the government to ensure that they can say ‘no’ when they have properly considered requests but, for good reason, can’t accept them.”Roger Barker, director of policy at the Institute of Directors, said the pandemic had meant that the way businesses operated had developed and changed at an unprecedented pace.“Labour shortages mean that employers recognise that they need to stay competitive in the labour market and support their employees through offering flexibility," he said."For example, after 18 months of mixed experiences with remote working, many business leaders are taking a hybrid stance into the future. Our research suggests that 63% of businesses intend to shift towards between one and four days of remote working per week.“Different organisations have different needs, and they should be allowed to work with their employees to find the best solutions. We think it right that conversations around flexible working take place from the outset, and we welcome the opportunity that this consultation provides to reflect on what we have learnt from the pandemic.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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