In January, the CIPD launched its #Flexfrom1st campaign encouraging organisations to make the right to request flexible working from day one of employment and to pledge their support. We are also calling for a change to UK Law to make flexible working requests a day one right for all employees. 

Two-fifths of employers believe the right to request flexible working legislation has been effective in increasing the uptake of flexible working in their organisation; making it a day-one right should further bolster its effectiveness by increasing access and uptake more widely. 

We believe that more action is needed to increase the uptake of flexible working arrangements to create more inclusive, diverse and productive workplaces that suit both the needs of organisations and individuals. 

Our research suggests that UK workers are facing inequality due to a stark difference in employers offering flexible working practices, with just under half (46%) of employees saying they do not have flexible working arrangements in their current role.  

An increased focus on home and hybrid working 

We know that the Coronavirus pandemic has driven a rise in working from home and increasingly organisations are focusing on hybrid working (a combination of home and workplace working) with two-thirds (63%) planning to introduce or expand their use of this type of working to some degree.  

The CIPD has launched practical guidance for organisations to help support hybrid planning as well as more in-depth interview and case study research, outlining 7 strategies to enable successful hybrid working for the longer-term.  

However, 44% of employees have not worked from home at all during this period, largely because of the nature of their jobs which can’t facilitate this. With working from home and hybrid being just one of several flexible working arrangements employers can offer, 75% of employees agree it is important that people who can’t work from home can work flexibly in other ways.

Less focus on flexible working options which allow flexibility over hours 

So, while we are expecting a big shift in flexibility of location – there is less focus on other forms of flexible working which allow flexibility over hours. While organisations are increasingly focused on home and hybrid working, less than a third (30%) are planning to increase the uptake of other forms of flexible working over the same period. This brings with it a risk of a two-tier workforce – where some can benefit from home-working and the flexibility it provides, while many other workers need to continue to attend their place of work and are afforded little flexibility.  

Not only do many employees not have flexibility but we are also seeing a real unmet demand for types of flexible working arrangements. In particular, there is a significant unmet demand for flexible start and finish times and compressed hours. So, there is a gap between what is offered and what employees could potentially benefit most from. 

Flexible Working Taskforce 

As well as mobilising around our #FlexFrom1st campaign we are also championing the work of greater flexible working through the Flexible Working Taskforce. Formed under the last government and co-chaired by our CEO Peter Cheese, the Taskforce was paused by the pandemic but is now reconvening. It has a wide-ranging membership and influence and will be looking at how to support both flexibility in location (including remote and hybrid working) as well as greater flexibility in hours.  

We outline, below some actions for both employers and the Government that we think will boost flexible working opportunities for all to suit the needs of both employees and organisation alike.   

Recommendations for employers 

  • Implement internal policies that allow your employees to request flexible working from day one of employment.   
  • Stipulate that jobs can be done flexibly in job adverts, attracting more candidates who are looking for flexible roles.  
  • Raise awareness of different forms of flexible working, such as compressed hours and job sharing, and explore how can they be effective in roles that have traditionally been seen as non-flexible.  
  • Develop mutual trust between line managers/senior management and employees in alternative working arrangements. Support these arrangements with appropriate people management systems and processes.

Actions for government 

  • Make the right to request flexible working a right from day one of employment. Reconsider the business reasons for rejection of requests and the stipulation that employees can only make a request every 12 months.   
  • Support the Flexible Working Taskforce in its practices to increase access to – and uptake of – different forms of flexible working.  
  • Work with organisations (such as the CIPD) on myth-busting around flexible working to dispel the notion that it cannot work for certain employees or job roles that traditionally are not considered flexible.  
  • Lead by example by ensuring that the civil service becomes an exemplar of flexible working, and by encouraging the wider public sector to create more flexible jobs. 

About the author

Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Adviser, Resourcing and Inclusion

Claire specialises in the areas of equality, diversity and inclusion, flexible working, resourcing and talent management. She has also conducted research into meaning and trust at work, age diversity, workplace carers and enterprise and has worked on a number of international projects. She is the author of several reports and articles and regularly presents at seminars and conferences.

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