The buzz surrounding the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act having achieved Royal Assent has been hard to miss on LinkedIn and in HR circles, says Sam Ross.
The UK government, for its part, has been eager to spotlight this development. Their announcement highlights the potential for millions of employees to enjoy unprecedented flexibility in their work settings and schedules.
The key question that emerges after the initial excitement has died down is whether this change in legislation signals a transformative shift in workplace freedom, or whether in practice things remain much as they are?
The Employment Relations (Flexible Work) Bill is an amendment to the existing Employment Rights Act 1996 and looks to improve flexible working arrangements within the UK workforce. This amendment comes at a crucial time when the traditional working model is being re-evaluated globally.
The key changes introduced by the Bill include the following:
- Increased number of requests: Employees now have the right to make two statutory requests for flexible working within any 12-month period, which is an increase from the previous limit of one request.
- Shortened decision timeframe: The timeframe for employers to make a decision on these requests has been reduced from three months to two months.
- Scrapped explanation requirement: The requirement for employees to explain the potential effect their flexible working request might have on their employer has been removed. Moreover, employees no longer need to suggest ways this effect could be addressed.
Looking at the changes in detail, it becomes evident that the goal behind these amendments is to change the process for requesting flexible work rather than widen the scope of the law. So, on the path to full flexibility for employees, significant gaps remain. While consultation with the employee is mandated before denying a request, employers still hold the upper hand in decisions. This creates more administrative burden for the employer but does not fundamentally change the power dynamic. The bill does not instill any right to flexible work – it merely adapts the frame for requests.
A broader perspective
From a broader perspective, the Employment Relations (Flexible Work) Bill underscores a global cultural change that takes work-life balance, employee wellbeing, and organisational resilience more seriously. Still, there’s a lingering sentiment that this amendment, although a step in the right direction, falls short of a more progressive stance towards remote and flexible working. The changes, in other words, will be mostly symbolic.
To truly usher in a revolution in flexible work, there’s much more to be done. For genuine change, the initiative lies with organisations themselves. By integrating flexible work into their core policies and practices, companies can inspire a broader industry shift. This not only caters to the needs of modern employees but also keeps the talent competitive.
In Remote’s survey The Future of Employee Benefits 74.2 percent of those surveyed said flexible work hours were a benefit they were looking for when searching for a new position. And when asked what benefits mattered most, a full half of the total were based on leave and working hours, such as paid self-care days or time off for mental health (58.9%), miscarriage leave (58.6%) or an early finish on Fridays (63.9%).
The pandemic and the dramatic changes to work lives has shifted the perception of work and opened the door for remote and flexible work. This allowed employees to make lifestyle choices without sacrificing their careers and contributed to a more harmonious work-life balance. But this isn’t just a win for employees; employers are reaping the rewards too. By embracing distributed teams, businesses can tap into a global talent pool, which in turn enhances team diversity, gives them a competitive edge, and ensures around-the-clock business operations.
Retention is a key factor here
Our research supports this view: a striking 69 percent of employers with remote teams noticed an uptick in retention after making the transition to remote work. The claim that remote teams are less productive proves false according to 72 percent of respondents who reported enhanced productivity on global remote teams. The amendments to the Flexible Working Act could have been an opportunity to incentivize British businesses to explore these new ways of working, and the benefits they provide, but instead left them stuck in the status quo.
In conclusion, the Flexible Working Act underscores the collective aspiration for enhanced work flexibility. Though it may lack stringent mandates, it’s a clarion call to employers to reevaluate – and potentially expand – their flexible work offerings.
Remote work is no longer just an employee benefit. It’s an evolving business strategy, fostering both operational efficiency and employee well-being. As the landscape evolves, businesses that don’t adapt risk lagging in the talent race. Whether propelled by the Act or not, the march towards remote work continues unabated.
Sam Ross is VP General Counsel at Remote.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.