What is changing with flexible working?

CSP’s trade union research and policy officer Robin Hinks explains

Robin Hinks
Robin Hinks, CSP’s trade union research and policy officer

Flexible working benefits staff, employers and patients alike. It improves productivity, reduces stress, and makes staff feel valued and motivated.  

In autumn this year, the Westminster government ran a consultation on ‘making flexible working the default’ throughout the economy. The consultation presented legislative changes that would affect members in England, Wales and Scotland. 

The proposals included making the right to request flexible working a ‘day one’ employment right. The CSP supported this measure, as it would expand opportunities for flexible working for members working in the private sector.  

Best-practice employers already consider flexible working on day one of employment, and during the recruitment process. For instance, healthcare trade unions and NHS employers agreed to change the NHS staff contract in 2021 to give staff the contractual right to day-one requests.  This removed the six-month qualifying period currently required by law. In other areas, the consultation did not go far enough to support employees to secure alternative working arrangements. 

For instance, the NHS contract now requires employing organisations to record flexible working requests and their outcomes, and to publish their data breaking down by employees’ protected characteristics. This measure will – in time – provide evidence for trade unions and others to assess whether employers are genuinely supporting more flexibility and ensuring equal access to flexible working opportunities. No comparable measures were included in the government’s proposed legislation.

The government will now consider consultation responses, before introducing legislation to parliament. However, neither legislative nor contractual changes alone will automatically lead to wider uptake of flexible working arrangements. Cultural shifts are needed within the workplace so that all parties value the importance of alternative working practices. One of the best ways to achieve this is through trade unions and employers working in partnership to develop supportive flexible working policies.

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