Molly Johnson-Jones is an expert in all things flexible working and a regular speaker on the Future of Work. She’s the CEO and co-founder of Flexa, where every flexible company gets discovered, and is firmly at the forefront of the flexible working movement.
When The Firm asked me to write a guest blog on the new Flexible Working Bill, I was thrilled. I often see adverts that say “open to flexible working” or where the list of benefits include “flexible working”, and think, but what exactly does that mean? And perhaps worse, adverts that don’t mention flexible working at all – you just can’t ignore flexible working as an employer in 2023. Flexible working can of course be a great benefit – and I’ll talk about how you can make that work for you, and for your candidates, later…
The Flexible Working Bill is a piece of legislation that has been making waves in the UK employment law world. The bill, which received Royal Assent in July 2023, creates significant changes to the way flexible working requests will be handled in the UK.
This impacts candidates, employees, teams, and, of course those of us who work in Talent Acquisition, HR and People functions.
So, what do you need to know about the Flexible Working Bill, and how is it going to change your work?
Flexibility will become more and more important
There’s one thing that’s not changing and that is the importance of true flexibility. 76% of people say that, when salary is equal, flexibility is the most important thing to them when it comes to choosing a company to work for.
I started Flexa because I couldn’t reliably find out what working environment and level of flexibility a company offered during the application process. Think about that for another second.How crazy is it that we hide information on what it’s really like to work somewhere until after we’ve signed on the dotted line and committed to a role?
Now, candidates can use Flexa to find a place of work that works for them. And companies can access talent who are aligned to their mission, values and ways of working.
We’re seeing the need for flexible workplaces grow and grow, both in volume and in variety. Companies are paving the way with brilliant hybrid setups, getting stuck into being remote-first, going fully async, or making space for a little flex time at the bookends of the day.
What do you need to know about the Flexible Working Bill?
- The right to request flexible working from day one.
- Previously, employees had to work for 26 weeks before they could request flexible working. The new law means that employees can ask for flexible working from the moment they start their job.
- The right to two requests per year.
- Employees can now make two requests for flexible working per year, up from one. This means that employees have more flexibility to change their working arrangements if their needs change.
- A shorter timescale for employers to respond.
- Employers now have two months to respond to a request for flexible working, down from three. This means that employees will get a quicker response to their requests.
- A requirement for employers to discuss all requests.
- Even if an employer is not able to accommodate a request for flexible working, they are still required to discuss the request with the employee. This gives employees the opportunity to explain their reasons for requesting flexible working and to explore alternative options.
When will the new legislation come into force?
The new legislation is expected to come into force in April 2024. This means that employees will be able to start making requests for flexible working from that date.
Is it a good thing?
It’s a step in the right direction.
Ultimately, taking a job without knowing what kind of flexible working will be on offer is not ideal. The new legislation puts the employee in a stronger position than the previous 26 week limitation did, but it still doesn’t address the lack of transparency that every candidate experiences in their job hunt.
Also, it poses the risk for companies that they end up with a huge array of different working patterns that are not productive, and hard to manage. Ultimately, offering flexible working as standard and being transparent about the kind of working environment that is on offer makes a lot more sense.
So, what can companies do to get ahead?
- Firstly, offer flexible working as standard. Commit to a minimum amount of flexibility that all office workers can access. You’ll have more control over the culture and consistency of your working environment if you embrace the future of work now, rather than being forced to at a later date.
- Secondly, publicise that. If you are transparent about what you offer, you’ll appeal to aligned talent. Phrases like “open to flexible working” should go in the bin. Instead say “we encourage 2 days a week in the office” and “our core hours are 10-4”. This will mean that you’ll get applications from people who want to work in the way you work, will thrive in your environment, and you’ll significantly reduce the number of requests (and legal costs).
- Thirdly, encourage conversations about adaptations before day 1. Don’t wait until someone is sitting at their desk in their new role to talk about this. That’s like waiting until you’ve moved in with your partner to have a conversation about the future. Create a safe and open environment during the interview process where people can talk about their circumstances, needs, desires, and ideal working environments.
This is our bread and butter at Flexa – using your working environment to attract perfectly aligned, diverse talent that wants to work in the way that you do.
Our top tip for you? If you’ve already got flexible working, flaunt it, and you’ll remain way ahead of any companies relying on day 1 requests to offer flexible working.