Employers need to get ready for “day one” flexible working

The Government’s new rules on flexible working requests are expected to come into effect next year. An online session explored what employers need to consider.

 

Employers need to prepare for new flexible working legislation, a Timewise webinar heard today.

The webinar hosted by the flexible working social enterprise explored what the upcoming “day one” rules will mean for employers.

The Government proposed new legislation last year that will give employees the right to request flexible working from “day one” of employment, a significant shift from the current rules whereby they must be in a job for six months before making a request. Employers will also have to respond to requests within two months, instead of the current three months.

Kevin Hollinrake, the Government’s minister for small business, enterprise and markets, spoke at the webinar. The panel also included HR leaders from the insurer Zurich UK and the retailer Wickes, who shared examples of best practice in flexible working, and an employment lawyer from the firm Pinsent Masons. Here are some highlights from the event:

Legislation and Guidance

Hollinrake said the legislation would hopefully pass through parliament before the summer recess and come into effect some time next year. He hoped the new rules would bring back people who had left the workforce and thus help to address the UK’s labour shortages. “There’s so much talent locked up in people who can’t follow a traditional working pattern,” he said. Hollinrake also said the government would release accompanying guidance for employers in due course. An area of uncertainty for both employers and employees is the definition of “day one” – under the new rules, should people applying for new roles request flexible working during the hiring process, or is there no obligation on them to mention this until their first day on the job?

Review processes for flexible working

Anne Sammon, an employment lawyer at Pinsent Masons, said employers should get ready by reviewing their processes for flexible working requests. Sammon said employers should assess if they can adhere to the upcoming two-month timeframe for decisions. They should also consider the quality of the decision-making process in order to avoid appeals where possible. Appeals can be time-consuming and stressful for both employers and employees.

Boosting diversity through flexible working

Steve Collinson, head of Zurich’s UK people team, encouraged employers to embrace flexible working as it boosts diversity and widens your talent pool. In 2019, Zurich UK decided to advertise all roles as available on a job-share, part-time or full-time basis, in order to address a lack of women in top roles. The insurer has since seen big rises in the number of women applying for roles and reaching senior roles. The number of men in part-time roles has also risen. Collinson said Zurich had strived to “switch away from the assumption that full-time is the norm.” Collinson also said that Zurich asks candidates during the hiring process if they are interested in flexible working options. This takes the burden off the candidate in terms of raising the issue. It also helps the employer to plan. However, Collinson added that some candidates felt uncomfortable talking about their flexible working needs or preferences if they hadn’t yet secured the job.

Implementing flexible working

Louise Tait, head of HR, talent and OD at Wickes, shared some of the retailer’s learnings as they have implemented more flexible working. In the early stages of the process, Wickes asked staff in different teams what kinds of flexible working they wanted. They also had honest conversations with managers, so they could talk about any concerns they had around leading flexible teams. They then piloted different kinds of flexible working and measured if they had any impacts on productivity. Tait said flexible working boosts staff loyalty. 


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