Why the new flexible working legislation won’t make a difference

Why the new flexible working legislation that came into force on April 6th 2024 might not be so great after all.

8th Apr 2024

Although the legislation is a step in the right direction to give employees more autonomy and freedom to work how they want, it won’t make a difference when it comes to normalising flexible working and creating more inclusive workplaces.

This is more complicated than being able to make flexible working requests; let's look at why that is.

What is the flexible working legislation?

The new rules will allow employees to request flexible working from day one of their new job, rather than having to wait 26 weeks which is what they previously would have had to do. Here is a quick overview of some of the other changes that come into play with the new legislation 👇

  • Day one rights - Employees can request flexible working on the first day of employment. This means that from day one, they can ask an employer for changes to how long, when, and where they work.
  • Two requests in any twelve-month period - Employees can now make two requests in any twelve-month period, rather than the current one request.
  • Requests must be dealt with within two months - Before the legislation employers would have three months to get back to employees, this has now changed to two months.
  • No explanation is needed - Employees don’t need to give their employees a reason when making a flexible working request.

4 reasons why the new legislation won’t make a difference

⛔ Employers can still say no: While the new legislation grants employees the right to request flexible working, employers can still say no.

Employers can reject an application for any of the following reasons:

  • extra costs that will damage the business
  • the work cannot be reorganised among other staff
  • people cannot be recruited to do the work
  • flexible working will affect quality and performance
  • the business will not be able to meet customer demand
  • there’s a lack of work to do during the proposed working times
  • the business is planning changes to the workforce

This doesn’t put those who need flexibility in a better off position. Take myself as a prime example. The reason I launched Flexa is because my flexible working request was ignored. My autoimmune condition means I physically can’t go into the office every day of the week meaning I simply couldn’t work.

👎 It’s not normalising flexible working: There still remains a stigma surrounding flexible working in many workplaces and this new legislation won’t change that. We can introduce all the policies we want, but without a cultural shift flexible working will continue to be seen as something that is out of the ordinary and not a given right that we should all have.

🔍 It’s not focusing on the real issue: Flexible working is so much more than making a request. It’s fundamentally about creating inclusive workplaces. There are many factors that make up a company’s EVP (Employee Value Proposition), company culture, management attitudes, and technology that can significantly impact the success of flexible working initiatives. Addressing these broader issues is needed if we really want to make a change.

😕 No clarity before applying for the role: Requests can only be made once a candidate starts their role, which means they're going into a job not knowing if they will be able to work flexibly. The lack of clarity on a company’s flexible working policy can lead to mismatches between candidates' expectations and the actual work environment. If companies are serious about championing flexible working, they need to be transparent at the point of sharing the job description. This will save time for both the candidate and the employer in the long run.

🫵 People will be treated differently: There is a risk that employees who request flexible working may be treated differently compared to their employees who work traditional hours. Just look at Dell, who recently announced that employees working from home aren’t eligible for promotion. This is again positioning flexible working as something that is out of the ordinary and only needed in given circumstances. Embedding flexible working into your EVP from the get-go means there will be no need to have such legislation in place and create situations where flexible working needs to be a request.

Why we need to normalise flexible working

If companies are serious about attracting diverse talent and fostering more inclusive workplaces, they need to normalise flexible working. With the rise in flexible arrangements such as hybrid and remote-first setups, some may believe it is already normalised. But we still have a long way to go.

This point is illustrated by recent examples such as Boots who have mandated all employees to return to the office, resulting in an apparent 5,000 individuals making their LinkedIn profiles 'open to work’ and Dell who announced that remote workers will not be eligible for promotions.

Recent research from The Wall Street Journal also highlights that individuals working from home were promoted 31% less frequently in the past year than their office-based counterparts, with nearly 90% of CEOs admitting that they are more likely to prioritise in-office employees for career-advancing projects, raises, or promotions.

There is a significant difference between allowing and enabling flexible working. If more companies focused on the latter, they would be able to create a workplace culture where flexible working is embraced. This would not only result in a much happier and more productive work environment but also attract a much more diverse workforce.

What do organisations think about the new legislation?

We asked some of our flexified companies to share their thoughts on the new legislation and the difference it will make.

"Flexible work is not new for hedgehog lab as our flexible working policy was offered to employees even before the pandemic and it will be a benefit that continues to be offered throughout the business. Our people come first, and by offering them flexibility over what their working week looks like for them, we place employee experience at our core.Namely, the agency offers complete flexibility to work either from its Newcastle headquarters, our York office or remotely from anywhere in the UK without limitations.

The consultancy understands that there is not a specific structure that fits all and by handing this responsibility to our employees, we empower them to adjust their workload in order to balance their work/life in the best way that fits each of them. This is based on a philosophy of trust and mutual benefit.

This also includes having a flexible hourly schedule as the company understands that having a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t accommodate everyone.At hedgehog lab we understand that to be truly flexible, we need to recognise the different needs of staff as they reach different stages of life. Introducing this policy has meant that there is a bonus for the employee to be transparent about their needs and to be proactive in creating an inclusive working environment.That said, it's really great to see more businesses embrace a flexible approach to work and see its effect across the whole business and its people."

Hedgehog lab

"Our thoughts on the new flexible working law – it’s about time!When it comes to our working day, we embrace the fact that we work from home and that we can have flexibility.

Whilst we have a very open approach to flexibility, and we hope this has come across when we talk about work / life balance, we recognise that flexible working can mean far more than your start / finish times and we respect the statutory right of all team members to request a change to their working pattern and to make a formal flexible working request from day 1 of their employment with us.

We consider all flexible working requests and outline how to go about doing this in our Flexible Working Policy. We also have a whole section of guidance within our Staff Handbook about Work/Life Balance to help support this further too."


4 ways to embed flexible working into your EVP

So, how exactly can you enable flexible working? Well, it all begins with your Employee Value Proposition and looking closely at how flexible working is integrated into it.

Your EVP is essentially what attracts employees to work for you. By embedding flexible working into your EVP from the outset means you can attract talent that aligns with your values and needs.

Here are four steps you can take to get started 👇

  1. Assess your current situation: Start by looking at your company's current policies, culture, and infrastructure to spot areas that could support flexible working arrangements. Think about things such as job roles, technology requirements, and communication processes.
  2. Create a flexible working policy: Create a clear and concise flexible working policy that outlines the options available to employees, such as remote work, flexible hours, or a 4-day week. Define the eligibility criteria, expectations, and any communication protocols.
  3. Communicate and train: Once the policy is in place, communicate it to all employees and provide training to managers on how to uphold flexible working arrangements. Flexible teams are different from fully in-office teams. This means a different style of leadership is needed. Regularly review and adapt the policy as needed so that it remains effective for your organisation.
  4. Shout about it: Once you have your flexible working policies and benefits in place, it's time to let everyone know. By using a platform like Flexa, you can make sure you're attracting aligned talent who value your ways of working. Making it clear that you're an inclusive employer that champions flexible working will place you at the forefront when it comes to attracting diverse talent and creating an inclusive workplace