Ageing Better welcomes plans for new rights on flexible working
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has announced plans for millions of employees to be given the right to request flexible working from day one of employment.
Ageing Better welcomes this significant progress towards making workplace cultures more flexible and inclusive, with particular benefits for older workers and people with caring responsibilities.
The government has announced its intentions to introduce new measures to give employees greater flexibility about where, when and how they work, in response to the Making Flexible Working The Default consultation.
Economic inactivity is one of the biggest challenges our economy faces. Over 300,000 more workers aged 50-64 years old are now economically inactive than before the first outbreak of COVID-19, according to ONS data. An ONS survey of 50-70 year olds who left the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic and were considering a return to work, flexible working hours was the most important factor when choosing a new job.
Currently, employees have to go through a 26-week qualifying period of employment before they can request flexible working, but under the new proposals they would be able to submit a flexible working request from their first day of employment. Employers will also need to respond to flexible working requests within two months, rather than the current three months, and discuss alternative options with employees before rejecting any requests. The government has committed to developing guidance to raise awareness and understanding of how to make and administer temporary requests for flexible working and will be launching a ‘call for evidence’ to better understand how informal flexible working operates in practice.
Ageing Better has long advocated for increasing flexible working rights and has been an important voice in articulating the case for change to government. In 2020, we developed an employers’ toolkit for flexible working for the over 50s to increase the availability and take-up of flexible working practices for older workers which was created in partnership with Timewise Foundation and based upon extensive research and pilots with two large employers.
Emily Andrews, Deputy Director for Work at the Centre for Ageing Better, said:
“We are hopeful that making the right to request flexible working a day one right will act as a driver to change workplace cultures to become more flexible and encourage employers to think more proactively about how jobs can be done flexibly.
“We also hope it will encourage older workers to feel more comfortable discussing what flexibility they might need from the start of a job. This could increase the range of jobs that older workers feel are open to them and help to tackle existing labour and skills shortages.
“We know flexible working is the number one priority when choosing a job for older workers returning to employment. Some need to balance caring responsibilities, some need changes in hours or places of work to support their health and wellbeing, while others just want a different pace of life. Making it easier to ask about it and increasing opportunities for people to request it can only help in ensuring more older workers can remain working if they want and are able to.
“We are pleased to see the election manifesto promise on this issue progressing. We look forward to seeing strong government messaging emphasising that flexible work should be available to everyone, for any reason, including older workers with caring responsibilities, health conditions, or workers simply looking for greater work-life balance. Employers interested in exploring how they can maximise the potential of older workers should check out our newly launched Age-friendly Employer Pledge.”
Kevin Hollinrake, Minister for Small Business, said:
“Giving staff more say over their working pattern makes for happier employees and more productive businesses. Put simply, it’s a no-brainer.
“Greater flexibility over where, when, and how people work is an integral part of our plan to make the UK the best place in the world to work.”