The British government’s new flexible working bill is about to be introduced into UK law. It’s an important piece of legislation that will impact a lot of lives. So, let’s take a look at what that means for businesses and their employees.

These days, in most families, both parents work. More people than ever are holding down multiple jobs simultaneously. And all this while tech advancements continue to blur the line between work and our personal lives.

In other words, job flexibility has become an essential part of modern working life. And that’s what the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 aims to address.

What’s in the new flexible working bill?

The flexible working bill is sponsored by Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi and Baroness Taylor of Bolton, a Labour life peer. The current iteration of the bill was published on the 27th of February. Since making it through the House of Lords, it has gone on to receive Royal Assent.

The bill makes amendments to the Employment Rights Act 1996. As such, it’s mostly a series of text replacements, grammatical adjustments and clarifications. But here’s the gist of it:

  • Employees no longer have to provide an explanation of business impacts in flexible work applications.
  • They’re able to make two flexible working requests per 12 months, up from one.
  • Employers must now consult with employees before being allowed to refuse their applications.
  • The deadline for employer decisions on these requests is now two months, down from three.

Contrary to what some sources claim, this bill itself does NOT guarantee the right to request job flexibility on day one. But that’s something the UK government has pledged to do alongside the above benefits. Hence the confusion. So, it’s likely we’ll see day one job flexibility legislated sooner rather than later.

It’s also worth noting that this bill affects UK-based employees specifically. Employment law generally depends on where the employee in question is based. But there are some cases of “expatriate employees” successfully claiming a connection to UK employment laws. So any UK-based companies with employees abroad should err on the side of caution.

How businesses must adapt for the flexible working bill

In only the last couple of years, we’ve seen job flexibility take off in a big way. Many employers are incorporating it into their recruitment strategies, remote work especially. But the new flexible working bill means these things aren’t eye-catching “nice-to-haves” anymore. They’re an obligation.

Streamline your application review process

Between a stricter deadline and potentially twice as many applications a year, it looks like HR might have its hands full. Not to mention the need for a formal discussion with employees before refusing their requests.

But there’s no reason to leave applications in limbo for two months. For one thing, don’t make the application process labyrinthine. Just let employees request flexibility through their staff portal or regular employee check-in.

You can even go a step further. When employees make an application, let them schedule their follow-up 1:1 immediately. That way, the conversation keeps moving. Even if you can’t give them exactly what they want, you can start going over suitable alternatives right away.

Assess different role types in advance

You can save time later on by evaluating different role types for how suitable they are for job flexibility. People stocking a warehouse or waiting on tables can’t work remotely, for example. But they could still benefit from core hours, part-time work or job-sharing.

This way, you can make employees and potential applicants aware of their options in advance. This cuts down on unnecessary requests and helps to advertise job openings more effectively.

Start offering flexibility from day one

It may not be part of the flexible working bill yet. But it’s something the UK government has committed to. So, even though you don’t have to, start offering job flexibility to new employees too.

Besides saving you a future HR headache, job flexibility is always a great selling point for new hires. So, in the end, it’s a win-win.

Different types of flexible work

With all the excitement around the flexible working bill, it’s easy to only think about remote workers. After all, it’s been the highest profile form of job flexibility since the pandemic. And there’s no question it’s one of the most important. But it’s also important to make sure employees are aware of all their options regarding job flexibility:

  • Part-time work
  • Job sharing
  • Compressed hours
  • Flexitime
  • Staggered hours
  • Annualized hours
  • Phased retirement

Some of these are very similar. For instance, annualized hours giving employees X hours to work a year, and letting them do it at their own place. Flexitime works on similar quotas, but does so over smaller increments of time.

On the other hand, staggered hours means changing start and finish times. For example, starting an hour earlier so you can leave an hour early. But compressed hours are when you increase shift length to reduce the number of days worked.

Despite their similarities, different options will appeal to different people. And, as noted, you’ll find some options work better for some roles than others.

Why is the flexible working bill great for businesses

Given that the flexible working bill holds employers to a stricter standard, you might see it as only a challenge to be overcome. But it’s actually a benefit when you think about it.

Right now, we’re in an employee retention nightmare. Global engagement is only 23%. Job stress keeps hitting record highs, which is obviously a huge threat to employee wellbeing. So shoring up the legislation around job flexibility only stands to help. Increased job flexibility will:

  • Improve wellbeing and engagement (thanks to work/life balance).
  • Increase productivity and innovation.
  • Reduce the rates of employee turnover.

But that’s not all. Investing in job flexibility makes our organisations more structurally diverse. And, in turn, that makes them more resilient. So, the next time something world-shaking like a pandemic happens, things are far less likely to grind to a halt. And, in our minds, that makes the new flexible working bill worth its metaphorical weight in gold.