The UK Government’s much anticipated consultation on Making Flexible Working the Default opened mid-September and has just closed on 1st December 2021. The CIPD put a comprehensive and evidence-backed response incorporating all our member feedback on this important issue.

We conducted a large online survey with YouGov of over 1,000 Senior HR and decision-makers in organisations and held a total of 6 regional focus groups in areas such as Scotland, Wales, Birmingham, Northern England and London to drill down further into the detail and logistical issues surrounding the consultation questions.

The consultation

The consultation was launched following the Conservative Party’s commitment to look at making flexible working the default in their 2019 manifesto. Currently, employees need to have been with their employer for at least 26 weeks before they can make a flexible working request and they are limited to one request every 12 months.

The consultation sets out five proposals for reshaping the existing regulatory framework so that it better supports the objective of making flexible working the default. The intention is to better support employees to start the conversation about contract changes, and employers to respond. The five areas covered are:

  • Making the Right to Request Flexible Working a day one right;
  • Whether the eight business reasons for refusing a Request all remain valid;
  • Requiring the employer to suggest alternatives;
  • The administrative process underpinning the Right to Request Flexible Working; and
  • Requesting a temporary arrangement.

Our findings

The majority (57%) of employers agree that the right to request flexible working should be a day-one right. Agreement is highest from those in the public sector (69%) compared to those in the private sector (54%). In addition, larger organisations of 250+ employees were more likely to agree than SMEs (62% compared to 51%).

In the consultation response, the CIPD reiterates its call for flexible working requests to be a day-one right, as well as having a more flexible system which allows employees to make up to two requests in a year. It also calls for the timeframe for organisations to respond to flexible working requests to be shortened from within three months to within one month.

Since January 2021, the CIPD has been campaigning through our #FlexFrom1st work to encourage organisations and the UK Government to make the change to a day-one right to request flexible working. We think this change will help to support greater fairness and open up opportunities more widely.

Our key consultation recommendations

  1. The Right to Request Flexible Working should be available to all employees from their first day of employment. Our CIPD consultation survey of over a 1,000 senior HR/decision-makers showed that 57% are in favour of a day one right to request flexible working.
  2. The existing eight business reasons for rejecting a flexible working request continue to be valid and should be retained. There may be a need for consideration of an additional business reason as a result of the shift to more home and hybrid working, for example, around the importance of culture, innovation and learning, which can sometimes be better supported in the physical workplace.
  3. Employers should be required to show that they have considered alternative flexible working arrangements when rejecting a request. We believe this would encourage greater flexibility and the consideration of alternative solutions that could meet both the needs of the individual and the organisation. Our CIPD consultation survey showed that 74% of respondents felt that employers should be required to do this.
  4. We believe that the current statutory framework needs to change in relation to how quickly an employer must respond to a flexible working request. Based on our consultation evidence with members, we recommend that employers should respond to requests within one month.
  5. We support building more flexibility into the system and allowing employees to make up to two requests for flexible working per year, based on the balance of evidence from our member consultation.

Our response

For a full copy of the CIPD’s consultation response on Making Flexible Working the Default, including comprehensive survey data and qualitative information from regional focus groups, see CIPD consultation response

Other resources

For further information about the CIPD’s Flexible Working resources, see Resources. You can also read Ben Willmott’s CIPD Voice article on the topic here.

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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