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What will the impact of the Flexible Working Act be on businesses and employees?

LoopMe

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May 20, 2024 | 4 min read

LoopMe's VP people, Charlotte Forsyth, discusses the impact of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act on businesses and employees.

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act came into force earlier this year on 6th April 2024, giving employees the right to request flexible working from day one of employment. Previously, requests were only permitted if the employee had 26 weeks’ continual service at the company.

In an industry known for its traditionally long hours and competitiveness, Charlotte Forsyth, VP people at LoopMe, discusses why this act is important for both employers and employees for a healthy work-life balance; and how businesses in the advertising and marketing industry can prepare for the legislation.

How will the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act impact businesses' existing policies and procedures concerning flexible work arrangements?

I see this being extremely positive for companies and employees alike. Before implementing changes and updating company policies, businesses will need to think about every single touchpoint in the employee journey. 

For example, new joiners will be able to signal their intentions to request flexible working arrangements before they’ve even joined the company, so it will be vital that this is addressed appropriately and information be made readily available early on in the recruitment process.

While I’m anticipating a positive increase in the number of employees making flexible working requests, businesses will need to ensure that upper management are trained in processing these requests in a sensitive and timely manner. Under the new act, employees will be able to make up to two requests within a 12 month period, and will no longer be required to demonstrate how their new work patterns will impact the business. 

This could include concerns around quality of work, efficiencies, and the impact on wider teams themselves, all of which will need to be reviewed in a fair and equitable manner by the management team, and not the individual.

Do you think this legislation will improve opportunities and attract a more diverse range of future employees?

Yes – I’m hopeful that the days of (predominately women) caregivers having to accept a full-time role to 'get their foot in the door', and 'prove themselves' before making such a request, are now gone. Those with specific needs that have felt at a loss by the traditional working model, will now have better transparency when accepting new positions and a stronger understanding of how likely their request for flexible working will be supported. 

This will have a huge impact for those with disabilities or chronic health conditions, by making certain roles and sectors immediately more accessible to groups who are under-represented.

Given the potential for increased flexibility in working arrangements, what measures or employee benefits do you recommend businesses implement to maintain or improve productivity and performance levels?

As the traditional work model continues to adapt to the post-pandemic era, I would encourage businesses to think about purpose as well as productivity. Being in the office should be about fostering productivity through collaboration and learning; and enabling employees to work more flexibly opens up a more diverse talent pool, and should allow them to manage their productivity in a way that works for them. 

One positive highlighted in Deloitte’s 2023 Women @ Work Report is that levels of burnout have decreased, and enabling more flexible working and productivity with purpose will only improve this further.

How do you foresee the Employment Relations Act influencing overall employee satisfaction, morale, and retention across different businesses?

Legislation is the first step. Leadership role-modelling and an inclusive, supportive culture, need to follow. We have seen previous attempts to introduce more flexibility into the traditional work model, such as shared parental leave, fall short as there are still decades of misconceptions around gender roles, 'commitment' and gender pay gaps to undo across businesses. 

Deloitte’s 2023 Women @ Work Report also pointed out that more women left their careers in 2022, than 2020 and 2021 combined, not to mention that the gender pay gap has been set back a generation – post-Covid – due to the majority of women remaining the primary caregiver in their families. So inclusion and support for underrepresented groups needs to go far beyond just updating policies and monitoring their recruitment, engagement and tenure – these are just table stakes.

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