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The Flexible Working Bill – should we all work flexibly?

Last week, the Flexible Working Bill received its second reading in the House of Commons. The Bill, if passed, would require all employers to offer flexible working automatically, unless specific circumstances apply.

The Bill has been put forward by Helen Whatley MP who is calling for a reversal of the current system in which employees with more than 26 weeks service must make a prescribed request to work flexibly. Whatley wants the ability to work flexibly to be an automatic term of employment, which the Bill would introduce.

Speaking in the House on Wednesday she said:

“The 40-hour, five day working week made sense in the era of single-working households and stay-at-home mums. But it no longer reflects a reality of how many modern family want to live their lives. Only 9.8% of jobs paying over £20,000 are advertised as flexible, yet 87% of employees want to work flexibly.”

The Bill has the support of many campaign groups such as the Fatherhood Institute and Mother Pukka. Mother Pukka’s founder submitted a flexible working request to start work 15 minutes earlier and leave 15 minutes earlier each day. This was to avoid the £1-per-minute penalty imposed by her son’s nursery for late pickups, which tube delays meant was a common occurrence.

Her employer refused, and she quit. She has since been campaigning for a change in the law to make flexible working more prevalent and accessible to accommodate other mothers, fathers, carers and people with disabilities. Whatley shared this story with the House to argue that the current Regulations are inadequate.

Closing the gap

It is estimated that 42% of women in the UK work part-time. Could this percentage be reduced if flexible working was more accessible? Does it really matter when your staff work or from where, as long as the work is completed to deadline?

In comparison, just 13% of men work part-time. Working fewer hours, pregnancy and maternity are the main contributors to the gender pay gap which has widened since last year, contrary to the aim of the reporting regulations. Whatley questioned the House; “how many part-time jobs could really be full-time flexible ones?”

Every year, 54,000 working mothers and pregnant women are pressured to leave their jobs. This leaves both a gender pay gap and gender employment gap. It is estimated that closing the gender employment gap could boost the UK’s economy by extra £150 billion by 2025. The Bill is therefore heralded as not just being good for mothers but good for all.

Increased productivity

The average commuting time for UK workers is 46 minutes. Could flexible working provide your workforce with an extra hour and half a day to be spent more productively? This does not even necessarily mean extra time to be spent working (although perhaps the ideal). Time spent commuting could be better spent taking the kids to school, going to the gym or simply getting more sleep. Improving employees’ overall wellbeing will no doubt have a positive impact on their output.

In a recent survey of over a thousand employees, 77% reported that flexible working has improved their productivity by enabling them to work when it suits them, aligning the all-important work-life balance.

Recruitment and retention

Flexible working could also provide a host of benefits in terms of recruiting and retaining talent. Candidates which may ordinarily live outside of the recruitment area can join the hiring pool where commuting is no longer a problem. This will allow for better talent acquisition where you are not limited to the skill set of your office’s locality.

As well as this, flexible working could positively impact retention rates. Spouses can often find themselves having to leave happy jobs where their other half is posted across or out of the country. Having flexible working could eradicate the need for partners to make work sacrifices to accommodate the other.

As well as this, improving work-life balance by encouraging flexible working could result in your staff staying longer and working longer into old age. It can allow for easier management of health conditions, which could otherwise force employees to leave work earlier than planned.

With an ageing population, employers will need to think how to manage supporting an older workforce. Could the Flexible Working Bill be an answer? There was over 250,00 more over-50s in work last year than in the previous, and this number is on the rise.

The Bill, if passed, would require all employers to offer flexible working automatically, unless specific circumstances apply.

Whatley argues that her Bill tackles these issues and will prevent employees from leaving work before they are ready to. She claims this will benefit individuals, their families, employers and the economy.

The Bill does recognise that many jobs require employees to work at specific times and from specific locations. Employers in such sectors will have the ability to set out reasons why a job should not be automatically flexible so that the Bill does to result in commercial detriment.

How would your workforce respond to automatic flexible working? Would this Bill be seen as a force for good? We at Forbury People are experts in advising on the current Flexible Working Regulations and can also help you to plan for any future changes too. Contact one of our specialists by heading to our contact page here.

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