Weekly news round-up: from flexible contracts to Universal Credit conditionality

This week’s HR news round-up covers everything from calls for greater transparency over flexible working in employee contracts to concerns that Universal Credit conditionality is failing employers and jobseekers.

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Employees want more transparency over flexible working

Over a third (37%) of professionals say their use of hybrid or remote working is not currently included in their contract, meaning many employers could change hybrid policies at any time, according to a new survey.

The survey of 8,800 professionals and employers in the UK by recruitment firm Hays found 84% of professionals say it would be important for hybrid or remote agreements to be included in their contract for a new role. And 93% say it is important for an organisation to be transparent about the flexible working options they provide, compared to just 5% who say transparency isn’t very important and 2% who state that it is not important at all.

Almost half (47%) of professionals said they would be tempted to change jobs if an organisation was more transparent about the flexible working options they provide. The majority (90%) think it’s important to have easy access to an organisation’s flexible working policy when looking for a new role.

Meanwhile, over half (53%) of employers believe transparency around their organisation’s approach to flexible working is very important to help attract staff, followed by 34% say quite important. Only 8% of employers believe flexible working transparency isn’t very important for talent attraction, and 5% say not important at all.

Read more on the survey here.

Jobs market cooling

Recruitment fell across the UK in August, according to the latest KPMG and REC, UK Report on Jobs survey, with permanent jobs down at the fastest rate in three years and temporary jobs declining for the first time since July 2020.

Recruiters signalled that the weaker economic outlook and cautious hiring policies had dampened recruitment activity.

The slowdown in hiring and reports of redundancies drove a further substantial increase in candidate availability.

Nevertheless, demand for increases in starting pay continued amid competition for specific skills and a strong inflationary environment plus continuing labour shortages in some areas. Office for National Statistics figures out this week show approximately 1 in 10 (11%) businesses were experiencing worker shortages in late August 2023, down 2 percentage points from mid-July 2023. 45% of those businesses reported they were unable to meet demands because of the shortages.

The volatile jobs market and a rise in redundancies is reported to be encouraging some employers to set more strict policies on hybrid working.

UK workers place low importance on work

The UK public rank among the lowest internationally for the importance they place on work, according to new research.

Of 24 nations included in a study by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, people in the UK emerge as the least likely to say work is important in their life, and among the least likely to say work should always come first, even if it means less leisure time.

The UK also has one of the highest proportions of the population who think it would be a good thing if less importance were placed on work – and this has risen considerably since trends began in 1981.

The report notes significant shifts in attitudes by generation, with Millennials becoming much more likely to say they’d welcome a decline in the importance of work, and much less likely to say work should always come first.

The study also looks at perceptions of people who don’t work. It finds only Sweden is less likely than the UK to say those who don’t work turn lazy, while the UK also ranks relatively low for the belief that hard work brings a better life.

Government consulting over fit-to-work changes

The Government has announced a consultation on proposed changes to the controversial Work Capability Assessment [WCA], including what work might be possible in the light of advances in flexible working.

In the Spring Budget, the Chancellor announced a series of changes to help get those with long-term health conditions and disabilities back to work, including changes to the Work Capability Assessment or fit for work test. This includes a review of the categories used to determine what activity people can do and how that affects their ability to work. These inform assessors’ decisions on what additional financial support people can receive through their benefits and if claimants need to do anything to prepare themselves for work.

The Government says the consultation’s proposals include updating the categories associated with mobility and social interaction, “reflecting improved employer support in recent years for flexible and home working – and minimising the risk of these issues causing problems for workers”. It adds that those found capable of work preparation activity in light of the proposed changes would receive tailored support to help them back into work.

The move has been prompted by labour shortages and a rising incapacity benefits bill. The number of older people dropping out of the workforce due to health concerns has been rising for many years, with Covid, cost of living and NHS delays exacerbating this. The proposed changes are due to come into force in 2025. Several charities have expressed concerns that the proposed changes are mainly motivated by cost-cutting and are worried they might make people’s health issues worse.

Read more here.

Employers alerted to menopause legal risks

An HR expert has called on employers to be more alert to the risks associated with not making reasonable adjustments for women who suffer from severe menopause symptoms.

The call came after Direct Line was ordered to pay almost £65,000 for failing to make reasonable adjustments for a former employee affected by menopause symptoms.

Kate Palmer, Associate Director of HR Advisory and consultancy, said: “Whilst menopause is not a protected characteristic in its own right, this case is a useful reminder for employers that a tribunal could find that the effect of the menopause satisfies the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010. The claimant was refused a pay rise and subjected to a disciplinary process because of alleged poor performance, however, there was a clear link with the claimant’s menopause symptoms which included ‘brain fog’, concentration issues and memory problems.

“The tribunal found that there was no consideration for the impact that the menopause was having on her performance and no adjustments were made to support her in the workplace. Employers should discuss circumstances on an individual basis with their employee and consider what reasonable adjustments can be made to both the workplace and to any processes or procedures where appropriate. These could include ensuring that there is fresh air or temperature-controlled spaces, comfortable desk seating, a private room or space with less distractions.”

Read more here.

Over 50s want more flex

Nearly two thirds (62%) of over 50s say they would like a job that fits around their life, according to a recent survey.

The survey of 1,000 jobseekers over 50 by Fuller, Smith and Turner Plc and Rest Less found that, when asked about their top priority for a job, 62% said they wanted a role that fitted around their life, 34% said earning enough money to pay the bills and just 4% said their priority was to progress their career.

Read more here.

Universal Credit conditionality ‘not working for employers or jobseekers’

Universal Credit conditionality – under which a threat that financial support will be reduced or stopped if requirements aren’t met – isn’t working for employers or jobseekers, according to a new report.

The report from the think tank IPPR found that it leads to people applying for jobs they are entirely unsuitable for, wasting employers’ time and resources. Moreover, the report says it fails to recognise that many people want to work or increase their earnings, but face barriers to doing so, like limited access to childcare, low confidence, high travel costs or living with a health condition.

The IPPR is calling on the Government to create a new public employment service which should include professionalising the role of Jobcentre work coaches to ensure they offer tailored advice and support, exempting people with health conditions and single parents from sanctions, working with employers to train people for a net zero economy and devolving decision on employment support to take account of local needs.

Henry Parkes, IPPR principal research fellow and co-author of the report, said: “At a time when our whole economy is being held back by workforce challenges it’s more urgent than ever to ensure everyone can access genuine help finding the jobs that work for them and their wider circumstances.

“Rethinking the system of employment support, so that work coaches can focus on finding solutions that work for both employees and employers, should be the first step towards a new universal service that works better for everyone – and for the UK economy.”

Read more here. 

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