New proposals on flexible working are a big step forward for parents and carers
Published: 23 Sep 2021
The proposals on flexible working that the government has outlined today, particularly the plan to give people the right to request flexible working from day one in a job, are a big step forward. Parents and people with caring responsibilities often simply can’t make rigid full time roles work – whether because of childcare costs and availability, or because they can’t meet the hours their employers are demanding. It means many talented people, often women, have to put their careers on hold due to a lack of flexibility from employers.
The proposals mean that now employers will have to respond to requests more swiftly: currently anyone putting in a request to work flexibly has to wait up to three months* for a response. For parents and carers juggling work with caring responsibilities, this long wait was unnecessary and tortuous. Employers will also have to provide a full explanation behind any refusals: a great step towards changing organisational cultures to make flexibility more accessible. Importantly, though, the right to request is not the same as the right to have. We know from our legal advice service that many requests are refused to parents and carers, often for opaque reasons. There is still work to do to make sure that more employees are able to access all the flexibility that their role can support.
Flexibility (which includes home or hybrid working but also part time roles, compressed hours and job shares) opens job opportunities to a wider pool of talent across a whole range of job roles and sectors. That can only be a good thing for business as well as for individuals currently locked out of the workforce by inflexible, outdated practices.
We hope that this new legislative action will help to drive change amongst those employers who are sceptical about the value of flexible working, and are reluctant to give their employees greater control over when, where and how they work. We know from our own employer members that the pandemic has catalysed progress on this agenda: demonstrating that flexible working not only benefits parents and carers but brings major business benefits in productivity, staff retention, wellbeing and engagement.
This consultation will improve the process of requesting flexible working. It’s important that future legislation, and employer practice, builds a genuine culture change that benefits both business and employees. We’d love to see greater thought and transparency go into job design by employers, so that roles are designed and advertised as flexible from the outset rather than waiting for requests to come in when someone gets hired. It makes great business sense too: we know that 69% of parents would apply for a job advertised as flexible over one not.
For a real transformation to happen in our working lives, we need to see a shift in workplace culture so that flexible work is expected as the default. This will be most effective if it’s done by a combination of new legislation and employer good practice leading the way. Today’s proposals are a really positive move for the 13 million UK working parents, and as more detail unfolds we will be sure to keep spreading the word about workplace rights and best practice.
* We originally stated that anyone putting in a request to work flexibly has to wait up to six months for a response. This was incorrect, and it should read ‘three months’. When even Working Families gets this wrong, imagine how tough it is for parents and carers to navigate the rules around applying for flexible work.’
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