In July 2023, the government’s Flexible Working Bill (also known as the Employment Relations Bill) received royal assent from the House of Lords. This is welcome news for millions of employees, who are set to have more say in their working patterns than ever before. But what does it all mean?
The Flexible Working Bill
First proposed by MP Yasmin Qureshi in 2022, this new legislation aims to give employees greater flexibility over where, when, and how they work. “Flexible working” is an umbrella term encompassing various possibilities such as part-time and term-time schedules, job sharing, flexi-time setups, compressed workweek structures, and the ability to adjust start/finish times.
Beyond this, flexibility in work also extends to the realm of workspace, allowing individuals the choice of where they work. Be it working from home, a satellite office, or a more ‘hybrid’ approach, the end goal is to cultivate greater employee satisfaction and enhance overall business productivity.
What are the new laws?
The new laws coming into place will include:
- The opportunity for employees to request flexible working immediately, removing the 26-week qualifying period
- The obligation for employers to engage in discussions with employees and consider alternative options prior to declining a flexible working request
- The ability for employees to make 2 flexible working requests in any 12 month period
- The requirement for employers to provide a response to a flexible working request within 2 months, reduced from the previous 3 month timeframe.
What are the benefits for employees?
We’ve seen a substantial shift over the past 7 years, with the UK seeing a 566% increase in the amount of businesses offering some form of flexible working to their employees. 58% of organisations are now seen to be offering more choice when it comes to working options, a trend significantly accelerated by the pandemic. Despite its challenges, the pandemic no doubt underscored the advantages that a flexible working approach can have upon individuals.
But this hasn’t been the story for some, with many sectors falling behind in the implementation of flexible working. The new Flexible Working Bill aims to eradicate that, and make a fairer policy for workers to have greater control over their circumstances.
Work-life balance & improved health
One of the key advantages for employees is the enhancement of work-life balance, enabling individuals to more effectively manage their personal and professional responsibilities. In turn, this contributes to improved health and overall wellbeing as employees can allocate more time for self-care.
Additionally, the less rigid approach leads to heightened job satisfaction, as employees can tailor their schedules to align with their personal preferences and peak productivity times.
Advantages for working parents
For working parents, the advantages are particularly evident, as flexible arrangements facilitate improved childcare prospects by allowing them to juggle parenting duties more seamlessly. It also instils greater confidence in career progression, as parents can navigate their professional journey while still fulfilling essential caregiving roles when needed.
What are the benefits for employers?
Although there has been some opposition to flexible working arrangements from employers, many did also see the benefit as a result of the pandemic. These include:
Employee satisfaction, productivity & retention
Flexible working arrangements can result in a more positive working environment, enhancing employee satisfaction and retention. When employees are empowered to manage their work-life balance, their overall morale and job satisfaction tends to increase. This leads to higher loyalty and a decrease in turnover rates (which can also save businesses the substantial costs associated with recruitment).
There is also likely to be an uplift in productivity, as employees are able to align their work with their personal preferences, resulting in a more focused and efficient output.
A wider talent pool
Flexible working can drastically expand a company’s potential to attract the best talent. By being open to more flexible arrangements, employers can tap into talent pools that go beyond their local area, opening the door to a more diverse workforce.
It’s also likely to attract highly skilled professionals who were previously unavailable due to various constraints.
Provide services beyond normal hours
By having employees work flexible or remote shifts, businesses can provide services at times that align with their client’s needs, enhancing customer satisfaction and potentially gaining a competitive edge. Adapting to varying employee schedules fosters a reputation for customer centricity, ultimately contributing to business growth.
How can employers and HR teams prepare for the Flexible Working Bill?
The new laws are not expected to come into force until 2024, so employers and HR teams have plenty of time to think about potential challenges that might arise from the changes. Employers will need to genuinely consider whether their roles can accommodate flexible arrangements, and begin to consider implementing a more flexible policy ahead of the changes being introduced.
Being prepared for immediate requests to changes in working arrangements will be key, and updating policies and staff handbooks will be necessary to ensure clear procedures for everyone.
The role of HR software
Having the right HR software and in place to handle flexible and hybrid working admin will greatly ease the additional pressure that’s likely to arise from the changes.
Software can actively assist a company’s shift towards flexible working settings. Documents and policies should be easily accessible, empowering employees to handle their schedules effectively and help HR teams to adhere to the new policies seamlessly.