What are your flexible working rights for new starters?

Professor Emma Parry from Cranfield School of Management comments on the Government’s plans to give all employees the right to request flexible working when they start new jobs. 

Good news for workers and employers

Any move to make it easier for employees to work flexibly should be welcomed. The Government’s plans are potentially beneficial for both workers and employers. They allow employees to work in a way that suits them; and help employers to attract, engage and retain a wider pool of talent.

However, this will not necessarily translate into an increase in the numbers of employees working – or being permitted to work – flexibly. Crucially, the proposals stop short of giving employees the right to work flexibly, by allowing employers to refuse such requests, albeit while having to provide an explanation for this decision.

Government plans do not go far enough

In my opinion, these proposals do not go far enough.  Employees should be allowed the right to work flexibly rather than just request it. This puts the onus on the employer to build a case as to why this is not possible. With this change to the proposals, we might finally see a more widespread shift in employers’ approach to flexibility for employees.

Flexible working needs a change of mindset

For employers to embrace widespread flexible working there needs to be a change of mindset and organisational culture. While we have seen this in some cases, as a result of enforced home working during the pandemic, we have also heard from several organisations who are resistant to moving away from the traditional, office-based, 9-5 way of working. The current proposals will allow such employers to develop arguments to prevent employees working flexibly. The fear is that we will see many of these requests refused and therefore no real change to people’s ability to work flexibly.

Out of sight, out of mind?

It is important to also realise that even if these proposals do result in more people having access to flexible working, employers need to also take steps to make sure that people that are working flexibly are not disadvantaged in other ways. We need to make sure that flexible workers are offered the same opportunities and recognition as those that are, perhaps, more visible to managers. We also need a culture and way of working that guarantees inclusion and equity for all, regardless of their working patterns. Otherwise we risk creating a two-tier workforce.