Embracing the Future: Preparing for UK Legislative Changes in Flexible Work 

The UK government has recently announced forthcoming legislative changes to current flexible working legislation.  

Among these changes, one of the most significant is the provision that flexible working will be available from the first day of employment, replacing the existing requirement of 26 weeks of service. It is also proposed that employees will be able to make two requests for flexible working each year (current limited to one) and employers will be required to explore all options for flexibility with employees prior to rejecting a request.  Finally, employees will no longer be required to explain (in their application) the effect that they believe the change will have on their employer, and employers will need to conclude the entire process for considering a request within two months (currently three).   

Photo by Fox: https://www.pexels.com/photo/group-of-people-watching-on-laptop-1595385/

Although formal flexible working requests will be possible from day one of employment, one potential impact of the change is that requests may actually come even earlier than that – job applicants may well begin to ask about flexible working during the recruitment process rather than wait to begin their new role.  

Although there is no current date for this new legislation to take effect, organisations can start planning for this changes now – and they can also maximise the benefits of flexible work for their organisations.   

These legislative changes are a good opportunity to review your current approach to flexible work.  Here are five steps to consider in the months to come:  

Review Current Policies and Processes 

Review your existing policies and processes related to flexible work arrangements and identify where changes need to be made.   Take this opportunity to ensure your policies reflect the evolving needs of employees and the organisation as a whole.  After the pandemic, many organisations adopted hybrid forms of work, often informally.  This is a good opportunity to review how this is working for the organisation and its employees.   

Train People Managers 

Make sure that all people managers, including hiring managers, are aware of the forthcoming changes. Prepare your managers to effectively manage flexible working requests, including those made during the recruitment process – ensure that managers know what information they can share about the organisation’s approach to flexibility and how to respond to questions.  It’s also a good idea to provide training and guidance about managing flexible workers in general – not every manager finds this easy.   

Communicate your approach  

In today’s rapidly evolving work landscape, flexibility has become a key driver for attracting and retaining top talent.  Flexible work arrangements are of critical importance to many employees and job applicants.  Survey after survey has indicated people are prepared to leave jobs for flexibility, and some people rank it higher than pay.  Organisations can make the most of this legislative change by being proactive – advertise clearly on your website or careers pages what flexible working opportunities are available in the organisation and how they can be accessed. Where possible, also state these in job adverts.  

Flexible Work Assessments and Trials 

It is not always immediately clear if a role is suitable for flexible working, especially if the particular form of flexibility hasn’t been tried before, or the role hasn’t been undertaken flexibly in the past.  Trial periods are a good way to assess the potential of flexible working without obligation.  Consider setting out a process for trialling flexible work and make sure managers and employees are aware of this.  Also help managers to assess jobs for flexible potential.  

Think beyond hybrid  

As a result of the pandemic, for the last few years much of the focus of organisations has centred on remote and hybrid work.  It is important not to forget that place is just one dimension of remote work – and time is another.  Don’t forget about time flexibility – offering part time work, job shares, compressed hours, non-linear working days or term time working are other highly valued forms of flexibility.  

By proactively preparing for these changes, managers and HR professionals can tap into the vast potential offered by flexible work arrangements. Embrace the shift, invest in the necessary resources, and foster a culture that empowers employees to thrive in a flexible work environment. It is possible to create a flexible future of work that is inclusive, adaptable, and conducive to individual and organisational success. 

More information on the legal changes and timelines (when they become available) can be found on the Government’s website, here.