The Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations 2023 came into effect on 6 April 2024, updating the UK’s regulations on flexible working and providing employees with greater rights to request a more agile working pattern.  

In this article, we highlight the key changes, the importance of trust when it comes to flexible working and the significance of diverse representation in decision-making roles.

Changes to Legislation

The key changes introduced by the new regulations are: 

  • Day one right – All employees can now request flexible working from their first day of employment, removing the requirement for 26 weeks’ service.
  • Two requests a year – Employees can now make a maximum of two requests every 12 months, instead of one.
  • Streamlined process – Employees no longer need to explain or justify the impact of their request on their work or the business. 
  • Quicker decisions – Unless there are exceptional circumstances, employers must now respond to a flexible working request within a maximum of two months, including any appeal, reduced from three months. 

The updated Acas Code of Practice (6 April 2024) covers the statutory flexible working request procedure, and employers should handle the request reasonably in line with this guidance and consult with an employee before refusing a request.

These changes reflect a shift in attitudes towards flexible working, simplifying processes and encouraging workable solutions.

The role of trust in flexible working

Employers could face an increase in flexible working requests as employees look to take advantage of the new regulations. A recent survey by Slack reveals that more than half of employees (55%) had planned to make a request once the new laws were in place. 

Despite over 78% of managers understanding what the legislation means for their organisation, 57% were concerned about receiving new and more requests for flexible working. This highlights the need for a shift in approach to flexible working. What was once considered a luxury, or a nice-to-have, has become a deal-breaker for many employees who value flexibility above other benefits.

Yet, if flexible working is so well received, why is there still resistance? Some high-profile UK employers are mandating their employees return to the office for more days per week, and in a recent ET case, Wilson v the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), a manager’s request to work entirely remotely was denied. The rationale provided by her manager was that homeworking could have a detrimental impact on performance or quality of output.

Establishing a strong bond of trust is vital when it comes to flexible working. However, often, a lack of trust is at play, especially among managers who struggle to trust their teams to maintain productivity or manage their workload autonomously, or because of a negative experience. 

Instead, managers must cultivate a high-trust culture and prioritise trust and autonomy over control and rigidity. To achieve this, they can:

  • Initiate open conversations about flexible working preferences, recognising that it extends beyond working parents or carers.
  • Embrace diversity in circumstances and responsibilities and acknowledge that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t do. For instance, some people prioritise wellbeing and could benefit from a later start to allow time to exercise, boosting their productivity for the rest of the day. Others might benefit from full flexibility during the school holidays to accommodate different needs.
  • Encourage transparent discussions in 1:1s around workload and business objectives. Cultivate an environment where dynamic working is championed, placing value on performance and results rather than where, or how, the work is carried out.
  • Upskill in areas such as delegation and team building, which is crucial for building high-performing teams, particularly in remote settings.

While performance monitoring might be important to understand improvement areas, managers should balance organisational needs with individual wellbeing. Understanding the benefits of dynamic working on engagement, culture, and overall well-being is crucial – and good for business. 

Why diverse representation matters

Ensuring diverse representation at decision-making levels is essential when designing flexible working policies. Unfortunately, many flexible working policies have been created based on more traditional working models and overlook the myriad of reasons why employees might need flexibility.

Barriers to supporting flexible working requests could stem from factors including resistance to change, unconscious biases and a lack of awareness of very real issues such as the reliance on a dual income to meet monthly living costs or coping with the ‘mental load’. This can lead to specific needs being overlooked, unfair assumptions about an employee’s commitment or productivity or favouritism towards full-time or office-based work.

Having more diverse perspectives can lead to fairer outcomes and better support for employees. Therefore, it is crucial to include a wide range of voices at the decision-making table and individuals who hold a more dynamic view shaped by diverse lived experiences, cultures and responsibilities. Understanding the motivations behind a flexible working request is key.

With the new Flexible Working regulations in place, organisations and managers must stay ahead of the game by embracing a more dynamic and innovative mindset to flexible working. They should ensure a diverse range of perspectives is represented at the decision-making table and build a culture of trust. They will soon see the benefits of a more inclusive culture, a happier and more motivated workforce and sustained success.

If you need further support, practical tips, advice, or training to help build a more inclusive culture and embrace flexible working in your workplace, please reach out to us at Tell Jane. You can email us at hello@telljane.co.uk to chat further.

 

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