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Making Flexible Working the Default

Every employee in Great Britain will be given the right to request flexible working – regardless of time served – under government plans to modernise the way we work.

Under the plans – delivering on a commitment set out in the government’s 2019 manifesto – around 2.2 million more people will be given the right to request flexible working.

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 also looks at cutting the current three-month period an employer has to consider any request.

If an employer cannot accommodate a request, as can be the case, they would need to think about what alternatives they could offer – for example, if they couldn’t change their employee’s hours on all working days, they could consider making the change for certain days instead.

The consultation looks at a range of flexible working methods such as job-sharing, flexitime, compressed, annualised and staggered hours, as well as phased retirement – not just working from home. It allows employees to balance their work and home life, including helping people who are managing childcare commitments or other caring responsibilities as well as ensuring that people who are under-represented in Britain’s workforce, such as new parents or disabled people, have access to more opportunities.


The proposals are also good for British business, says the government. Research has shown companies that embrace flexible working can attract more talent, improve staff motivation and reduce staff turnover – boosting their business’s productivity and competitiveness.

However, there are some circumstances where businesses will not be able to offer flexible working. That’s why the government is clear that they should still be able to reject a request if they have sound business reasons and will also respect freedom of contract rather than prescribing specific arrangements in legislation.

The proposals instead provide a framework to encourage conversations and balance the needs of employees and employers.

The proposed changes would also mean that all applicants will know they can ask for flexible working before applying for a job. Equally, employers will need to consider whether they can offer flexible working before advertising.

Alongside clear benefits to workers, there is a compelling business case for flexible working. Benefits include:

  • Attracting top talent - 87% of people want to work flexibly, rising to 92% for young people.

  • A highly motivated, productive workforce - 9 in 10 employees consider flexible working to be a key motivator to their productivity at work – ranking it as more important than financial incentives. Employers have reported seeing improvements in staff motivation and employee relations.

  • More competitive business environment - the CBI Employment Trends survey found that 99% of all businesses surveyed believed that a flexible workforce is vital or important to competitiveness and the prospects for business investment and job creation.

Under existing legislation, employees with 26 weeks continuous service have a right to request flexible working. An employer can currently reject a request for specified business reasons such as:

  • Extra costs that will be a burden on the business.

  • The work cannot be reorganised among other staff.

  • People cannot be recruited to do the work.

  • Flexible working will negatively affect quality.

  • Flexible working will negatively affect performance.

  • The business’ ability to meet customer demand will be negatively affected.

  • There’s a lack of work to do during the proposed working times.

  • The business is planning structural changes.

Type of flexible working include:

  • Job sharing: two people do one job and split the hours.

  • Part time: working less than full-time hours (usually by working fewer days).

  • Compressed hours: working full-time hours but over fewer days.

  • Flexitime: the employee chooses when to start and end work (within agreed limits) but works certain ‘core hours’, for example 10am to 4pm every day.

  • Annualised hours: the employee has to work a certain number of hours over the year but they have some flexibility about when they work.

  • Staggered hours: the employee has different start, finish and break times from other workers.

  • Working from home: it might be possible to do some or all of the work from home or anywhere else other than the normal place of work.

  • Phased retirement: older workers can choose when they want to retire, meaning they can reduce their hours and work part time.

The closing date for comments is 11:45pm on 1 December 2021.

The consultation document is available here.

An Impact Assessment document is also available; click here.

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy September 2021

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