Only a third of firms accept day-one flexible working requests, CIPD finds

Poll reveals many businesses are still lagging behind despite two in five being more likely to allow flexible arrangements since the pandemic

Only a third of businesses are accepting day-one requests for flexible working, the CIPD has revealed, as calls continue for the implementation of a right to request from the start of a role. 

A survey of more than 1,000 employers, conducted for the professional body by YouGov, found that despite almost three in five (57 per cent) businesses agreeing that the right to request flexible working should be present from the first day of employment, just 36 per cent of businesses currently accept them.

Under current rules, employees only have the statutory right to ask for a flexible arrangement after 26 weeks of employment, and are limited to making one request every 12 months.

The findings were part of the CIPD’s response to the government’s consultation on proposed changes to the rules around flexible working, which could see employees given the right to make day-one flexible working requests.

The proposals could also restrict the reasons employers can refuse a flexible working request, and introduce a requirement for employers to offer alternatives if the arrangement the employee asks for isn’t suitable.

The consultation closed for submissions yesterday (1 December).

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Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said that giving employees the right to request flexible arrangements from day one would force employers to think about how jobs can be done flexibly, and encourage them to promote jobs and roles as open to flexible working. 

“This will not only better meet the changing expectations of employees, but also help to attract more diverse talent giving more opportunity and choice to all,” he said, adding that flexible arrangements are good for inclusion as well as overall wellbeing and performance.

The CIPD has been campaigning to make it a day-one right to request flexible working through its Flex From 1st campaign.

Support for giving employees a day-one right to request flexible working was higher among public sector employers (69 per cent) compared to those in the private sector (54 per cent). Larger organisations with 250 or more employees were also more likely to support a day-one right than SMEs (62 per cent compared to 51 per cent).

The CIPD poll also found that the pandemic has had a strong influence on changing attitudes. More than two-fifths (42 per cent) of employers said they are more likely to grant requests for flexible working (excluding home working) since the start of the pandemic, even after restrictions were relaxed. Just 7 per cent of employers said they would be less likely to.

Melissa Jamieson, CEO of Timewise, said expectations of jobs have changed following the crisis. “Pre-pandemic, nine in 10 employees wanted some form of flexibility in their next job but few would have ever thought they could secure new work on such terms. Now it’s all changed,” she explained. 

But, she said: “The real game-changer will be when we see more employers proactively offering flexible working options within recruitment advertising itself.”

Gemma Dale, lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, said the results showed “a step in the right direction” when it came to forms of flexibility beyond working from home.

“Although the focus has been on remote work because of the pandemic, time flexibility is equally important to employees and helps us to break away from the limiting idea that work is a nine-to-five endeavour,” she explained. 

Dale also said that beyond it being “common sense”, requiring employers to consider alternatives to a flexible request as opposed to simply rejecting them could help to create new opportunities to work flexibly.

The research revealed that nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of employers felt they should be required to show that they have considered alternative working arrangements when rejecting a statutory request for flexible working.