The government’s flexible working plans have been welcomed by industry yet some say employers could have been encouraged to offer more flexible working opportunities.
The proposals consider “whether limiting an employee’s application for flexible working to one per year continues to represent the best balance between individual and business needs”. The consultation states workplaces should offer the ‘right to request’ flexible working from the first day of a job.
Dr Erika Kispeter of the Institute for Employment Research at Warwick University, said: "The government’s plans to extend the ‘right to request’ flexible working take this approach as far as possible: at its inception in 2003 the scheme was open only to those with children under six years old and after the current plans are implemented it will be open to all employees as soon as they start a new job.
"The removal of the qualifying period of 26 weeks will likely be welcomed by parents, carers, disabled workers, the organisations lobbying on their behalf as well as HR professionals, all of whom have long argued that more flexible working opportunities would benefit everyone.
"Considering the general agreement about the benefits of flexible working, it is surprising that the plans put forward by the government do not encourage employers to consider and offer more flexible working opportunities and discuss these with applicants as part of the hiring process. Perhaps giving employees the right to request flexible working in a tight labour market is seen as a ‘nudge’ that has been shown to be effective in generating new flexible jobs.
"However, the proposed extension of the ‘right to request’ does not change the logic of the system: workers have to convince their managers that a flexible working arrangement they are asking for is feasible. This approach ignores the power differential between employee and employer and, what is even more problematic in the long term, it reinforces the notion that flexible working is an exception to the rule."
Giles Fuchs, CEO at OSiT, warned of ‘false flexibility’. He said: “The government’s consultation on giving employees the legal right to request to work from home from their first day at work is a clear recognition that workers value autonomy, trust, and flexibility. However, I would strongly caution employers and legislators against the 'false flexibility' of permanent, full-time remote working and the damage this could cause to employee wellbeing.
“Ditching office work completely in favour of long-term remote working can have profoundly negative consequences. Our 2021 research found that 37 per cent of workers reported suffering from anxiety or depression while working at home, while 51 per cent felt their mental health had been negatively affected in some capacity and 39 per cent cited difficulty unplugging from work as a significant disadvantage.
“The value of office working in providing the chance to collaborate, develop professionally and define work-life balance should not be discounted when flexible workstyles are being developed post-pandemic.”
Phil Perry, head of UK & Ireland at telecommunication business, Zoom, said flexible working “isn’t the future, it’s the now, and Zoom welcomes the government’s proposals to give employees the right to request flexibility from the moment they start a job”.
Perry added: “The world of work has transformed in the past 18 months, and the vast majority of employees do not want to simply return to past ways of working as we move beyond the pandemic. At Zoom, we’ve recognised this, and we’re preparing for a hybrid approach in our return to the workplace, allowing employees to choose what works best for them.
“The Government's proposals are a clear sign that it too recognises the benefits that a more flexible approach to work, supported by new and innovative technologies, can offer to workers in every corner of the UK. This is the first key step in creating a nationwide movement that supports this. Now, the government needs to lead by example by offering flexibility in the public sector itself.”