Flexible Working Bill: End Of The 9-5 In The Office?

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UK employees can request flexible working arrangements as early as day one from 6 April 2024 as the new Flexible Working Bill passes into law.

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill will allow 2.2 million more employees to exercise their right to decide when, where, and how they work by the start of this month.

What does this mean for UK employees?

Employees can request flexible working arrangements as early as day one instead of after 26 weeks. Under the new bill, 2.2 million more workers will be entitled to this new work setting. 

The Employment Relations Bill also reinforces protective measures, especially when making flexible working requests. For example, an employer has to consult an employee according to a set of requirements before rejecting their request. 

UK workers won’t have to justify how their request for flexible working will affect the employer any more either.

Statutory requests are also now upgraded to two within 12 months with reduced waiting times. Employers must consider, decide on, and apply the statutory request within two months. 

How will the flexible working bill affect employers?

To start things off, you will have to familiarise yourself with the roles in your business that may file for requests under the new legislation.

As an employer, you must deal with requests in a “reasonable manner.” 

That means you can’t immediately reject a request based on unsubstantiated concerns. If you do arrive at a rejection, you will have to provide a valid basis for your decision. 

Here are the following business reasons from the Employment Rights Act 1996 that may sway you toward a rejection:

  • the burden of additional costs
  • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • an inability to recruit additional staff
  • a detrimental impact on quality
  • a detrimental impact on performance
  • a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • insufficient work available for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • planned structural changes to the employer’s business

If the employee feels your decision discriminated against them, they can take you to an employment tribunal.

Government will offer briefing material on new bill

As SMEs work in varied fields, their employees’ job titles must be equally diverse. So, deciding which position is suitable for flexible working can be confusing.

The Working Families Charity and the Flexible Working Taskforce will provide new guidelines to help employers transition under the new law.

Businesses can access detailed instructions on designing and advertising flexible job roles. Underlining what you can and can’t accommodate under the bill is more important than ever to temper applicants’ expectations.

Aside from this, there will be a call for evidence on non-statutory flexible working. The Government hopes this will emphasise the influence of flexible working on the labour market and how it can address the gaps between employees and employers.

Through these programs, employers will be able to reconsider how flexible working can transform current job roles.

What are the benefits of flexible working for SMEs?

Amid the skill and labour crisis, flexible working can help SMEs attract talent from a wider geographical area. 

Businesses that adopted flexible working also recorded high staff motivation levels and slashed staff turnover rates.

Small businesses may struggle during onboarding process


It’s not all smooth sailing, though. According to Jeanette Wheeler, chief human resources officer at MHR, the onboarding process is one of the key stages during a new employee’s integration into the company. 

The new Employment Relations Bill may disrupt the traditional onboarding process.

Understanding the company culture, being involved with training, and building rapport with the team are all core experiences usually done in person. In small businesses with generally less than ten employees, connecting with other employees and the company is more crucial than most companies.

However, SMEs will have no choice but to adapt. 

The new flexible working bill is just the tip of the iceberg. According to a study from Currys, 43% would not apply for a job if it wasn’t explicitly advertised as flexible. CIPD research showed that in 2023, 2 million workers changed jobs while 4 million left their field because of a lack of flexible working options.

In other words, small businesses will have no choice but to obtain the necessary resources to accommodate flexible working.

Our Opinion

The typical 9-5 working pattern was created in the 1920s in the USA by car manufacturer Henry Ford. And while it was an improvement from what came before, we have moved on, and it’s just not right any more.

Whether an employee has care responsibilities or prefers to have a lie in the morning, the traditional office hours just don’t suit most people any more. This new law reflects the change in our society and as such is a good thing.

However, we understand that it can be quite a challenge for some small businesses to accommodate these requests. And not all roles will be suitable. But at the core of this issue lies the relationship that you as an employer have with your staff.

We all know that happy staff is more productive and performs better. And while it won’t always be possible to agree to the requests, what’s important is to talk to your staff. Take their concerns and wishes seriously and try to find a compromise that works.

What many employers don’t understand is that such a request doesn’t mean the employee doesn’t want to work, they just want to be able to have the life/work balance they desire.

And as we have already said, offering flexible working arrangements will make you more attractive to prospective and existing staff. So we would recommend to all small businesses in the UK to take this new law as an opportunity to create a work setting that your staff will love.

It won’t just be good for them, but also contribute to your business’ success.

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The Business4Beginners news team consists of several writers who each have their own unique experience in businesses. By keeping their fingers on the pulse, they bring you the latest in news and trends impacting small UK businesses.
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