The right to request ‘flexible working’ today becomes available to all UK employees with more than 6 months service becomes law. Previously this right was only applied to certain groups such as those with special caring responsibilities.
‘Flexibility’ can include the work location, hours or days of working, job sharing and career breaks.
20 million employees are affected, and recent surveys suggest anything up to 5 million of them could request some kind of flexibility. Vacancies site Glassdoor found a fifth of their respondents intend to submit an application, while 26% of HR consultant Croner’s felt that they would. Any request for flexible working must be considered “in a reasonable manner” by employers, who must be able to give good business reasons for denying a request, such as the impact on costs, performance, other staff and customers.
The changes have been championed by Nick Clegg who sees the extended rights as positive for staff morale and productivity, as well as a boost for staff who want to change the way they work; “It’s about time we brought working practices bang up to date with the needs and choices of our modern families.” Unions and other employee representatives support the legal changes and most firms claim that they already offer a certain amount of flexibility in any case, but some employers, especially in smaller companies, see additional administrative costs of handling flexible working requests, and fear that denying requests (however reasonable the denial) could cause problems.
As it stands there are currently over 1.4 million employees who regularly work at home. The new rules could see significant increases, especially in the groups that already have higher home working rates. That means in particular people in jobs that can be largely carried out by computer and phone. At the moment the highest home working numbers for employees (as oppose to the self-employed) are in management and administrative jobs in sales accounts, business development and marketing. It seems likely that home working in these and similar types of work will rise further.
Home working rates are also significantly higher amongst older employees, especially those beyond the normal retirement age, supporting the government’s belief that extending flexibility rights will increase the number of older workers staying in employment.
It will be interesting to see how the gradual upward trend in home working seen over the last 15 years is affected as more workers request this type of flexibility and employers are forced to consider the practicality of it for job types less frequently conducted from home.