Why and how businesses can embrace the new flexible working legislations with confidence

Posted on Wednesday, April 3, 2024 by Hannah Hassack

A welcome change

Callum and I have championed flexible working for a long time. We’re both busy parents with young children, and we know how impossible the juggle can be for working parents these days. This extends to anyone with domestic responsibilities or other commitments that leave them stretched, burnt out and unable to cope. 

Many of our team are parents, or have people they care for and other commitments at home, and so we encourage flexible working where possible. This can look like many things. As well as facilitating hybrid and remote working, we also support our individual team members in different ways depending on their personal circumstances. For example, our Head of Business Services Keira just returned from a sabbatical which we offered her so that she could care for her young children with autism. Meanwhile our Consultant Jade works split hours so she can take time out of the day to pick her children up from school and spend time with them. This gives real balance as Jade gets to focus on her career whilst also being a present mum.

We care passionately about creating a working culture that empowers our people, and our business, to thrive. And as of this week, every business out there is going to have to care about this too. The new flexible working legislation comes into force on 6th April, giving employees the right to flexible working from day one. Not only does this mean employees will be legally entitled to two flexible working requests in a 12-month period, they will no longer have to explain their request or show what the impact of it will be - and employers will be legally required to respond within two months.

We are absolutely delighted about what this long overdue shift represents, and embrace it with wide open arms! Not least because we know the positive impact it will have on those candidates desperately searching for a role that can work within their existing commitments, as well as the firms who want to fill their roles with the best possible person for their business. 

Why is flexible working so crucial for a healthy workforce?

There are so many factors which have contributed to a workforce on its knees for some stretch in the limiting working pattern that many organisations still adopt, and which was popularised all the way back in 1926 - almost 100 years ago!

The UK working week has barely evolved to reflect huge societal changes of the last century, not least that in families with children it’s now far more common for both parents to work*, meaning keeping up with chores, appointments and everything else that comes with running a home tends to be crammed into the precious little time outside of work. This creates an overwhelming mental load, especially for mothers who evidently still carry the majority of the burden of domestic tasks, even when they’re earning equal to or more than their partners* 

There’s also the huge advancements in technology which have made workers accessible to their employer 24/7, which we know has come with huge disadvantages to our mental health. We’re on our smartphones and laptops hours after “logging off”. We’re receiving emails far beyond the call of duty. One researcher found that the constant feeling that an email could arrive was causing “anticipatory stress” in employees even when they didn’t receive one.*  Essentially, we’re signing in and burning out. 

For those of us who’ve forged a career with one hand while holding up a household in the other, we’ve learned the hard way the detrimental impact of this round-the-clockness on our health and our home lives. Flexible working can go a long way to alleviating this pressure and supporting employee wellbeing, as well as boosting business outcomes.

The business benefits 

It has been well documented that as well as boosting employee (and employer) wellbeing, flexible  working positively impacts business outcomes*. The CBI Employment Trends survey27 found that 99% of businesses believe an agile workforce is vital to business prospects* Meanwhile, demonstrating openness to flexible working has advantages for relationships with external stakeholders, and helps teams to adapt around their clients' business hours - especially for international and global firms who support clients around the world and in different time-zones.

Flexible working is core to upholding a person-centred, people-first ethos, and shows that an employer understands that their people are the backbone of their company. This massively strengthens a business’ equal opportunities and ESG positionings, which are highly valuable to clients and customers alike.

The impact on talent search 

In the recruitment industry, we’re seeing more and more candidates coming through with an eye on flexible working and willing to hold out for an employer who can offer them just that. The CIPD reported that the number of candidates requesting flexible working is growing, as is the volume of organisations offering it.

While campaigns like Flex Appeal and Happy to Talk Flexible Working have been banging this drum for a long time, covid-19 lockdown further galvanised the push for a more malleable working week. The remote, hybrid and adaptable working styles we were forced into during that time opened up our eyes as well as a necessary conversation. 

Businesses learned how to adapt and still achieve their outcomes, while employees felt the pressure that could be lifted with more flexibility in their professional life - with 71% reporting this had no detrimental impact on productivity*. For many, flexible working became very high on the agenda, and priorities shifted. It was no longer a nice-to-have but a need.

In 2023, it was reported that an estimated four million people had changed careers due to lack of flexibility* This same shift in priorities is becoming more prevalent in the way people think about their careers, with more people considering contract, freelance and flexible roles which will give them more freedom to choose and adapt their working hours. 

However, the chamber of commerce found that only 23% of firms include flexible working in their offer contracts*, and it’s understandable that some businesses shy away from flexible working for fear of lower productivity, dips in morale, or a fragmented workforce. Especially for long-standing businesses deeply rooted in very different working frameworks, or for small businesses who are getting established.

Equally, we know it’s those employers leading the way in flexible working who are securing top talent and sustaining thriving teams. The figures speak for themselves, and the new regulations combined with this clear shift in mindset amongst candidates is something all employers should be aware of and prepared for.  There’s a way to go in helping employers have the confidence to build flexible working into the bones of their business. 

What businesses can expect under this new legislation and how to prepare

For some employers, these new regulations could be a daunting prospect and they may be looking at a more dramatic shift to close the gap between how they work now and a more flexible future.

In our 30 years of working with law firms to fill their vacancies with high-calibre candidates, we’ve had much experience of supporting employers to adapt their offering to showcase great flexible, people-first packages. Here are some simple steps all businesses can take to meet the new legislation and evolve the way they work to meet today’s expectations and attract high-calibre candidates.

  • Know your policies. Take the time to review current policies and sense check them against this new legislation.

  • Empower existing employees. Share updated policies with employees to show willing and empower them should they wish to make a request.

  • Update job ads. Including flexible working details in job ads and on your website will let potential candidates and new talent know this is something you support.

  • Flexible offer packages. When working with our clients, we support them to offer the most flexible package they can to their candidates, and to truly consider this can work with the role they’re recruiting for. It will be key for employers going forward to consider how they can build flexibility into their offers.

  • Do what you can. We know that not every business can offer the same flexibility. For example a large organisation might need people on site to justify the cost of overheads, meanwhile a customer facing business might struggle to alter the hours they need their employees to be present - but listening to staff and recognising their individual needs is a great starting point, and something every manager can do.

  • Walk the walk. Really think about what you mean when you claim flexible working. A 4pm finish on a Friday or permission to go to the dentist on a Wednesday afternoon doesn’t cut it like it used to. Businesses will only see a higher turnover of staff in the long run if they claim flexible working that they don’t really offer. Candidates are the people who are going to become the beating heart of their  business, so it makes sense to listen and respond to their needs. 

We understand that this is potentially a daunting shift for businesses, but we know first-hand what the benefits of flexible working brings to candidates, clients, their careers and their livelihoods. Because when we talk about flexibility, we’re talking about compassion. We’re talking about trust. We’re talking about giving people the chance to live well, and that can only ever be a good thing.

Written by Andrea Prendergast, Ryder Reid Legal co-owner and Executive Search Director. Andrea started her recruitment career in 1998 in her hometown of Liverpool. She moved to London and joined Ryder Reid in 2008, becoming a director and shareholder three years later, before buying the business in 2018 with Callum Smith, Ryder Reid Legal Business Director.

References:
https://www.britishchambers.org.uk/news/2023/07/three-quarters-of-firms-offer-flexible-working-but-significant-sectoral-disparities-exist 

https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/familiesandthelabourmarketengland/2021

https://www.cipd.org/globalassets/media/knowledge/knowledge-hub/tools/flexible-working-business-case_tcm18-52768.pdf 

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/epidemiology-health-care/news/2019/nov/women-still-doing-most-housework-despite-earning-more.

https://www.statista.com/statistics/280120/employment-rate-in-the-uk-by-gender/

 
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