When the Government’s changes to flexible working legislation come into force on 30 June 2014, UK employers could face a surge in flexi-working requests from employees. According to a new YouGov survey, 26% of British workers (excluding sole traders) say they are likely to request flexible working arrangements once the new legislation comes into force.
The survey of 2,328 Brits (of which, 1243 were working – excluding sole traders) was commissioned by Croner, a Wolters Kluwer company providing information and consultancy to HR, health & safety and business professionals and features in a new practical guide for businesses.
The fact that over a quarter of British workers surveyed say they are likely to take advantage of the new legislation could overcome widespread inertia regarding flexible working, caused by uncertainty and a fear of rejection.
According to the survey, 69% of the working population has never made a flexible working request. Of these workers, 13% cited financial implications as a reason for not requesting flexibility, while nearly a quarter (22%) said they did not think their request would be accepted.
Currently, only employees with children under 17 and those who have responsibilities as a carer have the right to request flexible working. The new law extends this right, and means that any employee (with 26 weeks’ service) will be able to apply to work flexibly. Indeed, the survey shows that 18-24 year-olds are the keenest age group to ask their employer (31%) and women are more likely to make the request (30%) than men (22%).
Good news for British business?
Richard Smith, Head of Employment Law at Croner says: “Changes to the law are not bad news for employers – they will receive some flexibility too. The new law replaces the statutory procedure for consideration of flexible working requests, with a duty on employers to deal with requests in a ‘reasonable’ manner. It does not give employees the right to working flexibly but provides a right to request it. Employees can request a change to working hours, working time or working location once every 12 months.”
“For SMEs, flexible working will not be the easiest policy to implement, particularly if there is sudden rush of applicants this July. However, once the trust and change of mind set has been established the rewards of a flexible work force will become clear. For those companies who have never offered flexible working or understand this new legislation it may come as a shock. Bosses should also note that if there is a genuine business reason they can turn down requests, but they will need to prove that they have been considered fully and the process well documented.”
Less sickness and better morale and work-life balance
The survey also found that 27% of respondents whose businesses have offered flexible working believed that flexibility helped to increase productivity and 28% said it reduced sickness and absence. Meanwhile, 63% of respondents believed that flexible working created a better work life balance and 42% said it created higher staff morale.
Flexible working has been positively embraced by employees of all ages, with a perceived uplift in productivity and morale, while delivering a better work life balance. Although the overall impression of flexible working is positive, 16% of respondents felt that it could create tension in the workplace, rising to 19% of 45-54 year old workers.
This tension may be eased when the new legislation comes into effect, as the 45-54 year old age group who have traditionally been viewed as the ‘neglected middle’ will have the same opportunities to request flexible working as their colleagues. However, employers will still need to be mindful not to discriminate against employees on the basis of any protected characteristics. Employers may wish to adopt a policy to regulate flexible working requests.
To help businesses understand the changes to legislation, Wolters Kluwer has produced a practical guide to understanding the new law, what businesses need to do when considering a flexible working request and how to handle conflicting requests. Click here to download the white paper.