How should leaders communicate the new flexible working law to employees? 

"It’s helpful to provide examples of how existing employees have benefitted from flexible working" -

Most (70%) employees are unaware of their right to request flexible work adjustments from day one. How can employers communicate this to employees in a clear, inclusive way?

As a leader in HR, the concept of flexible working and its benefits are nothing new. The positive impact of achieving a successful work/life balance for employees is clear to see. Whether it’s a caring responsibility, a parent who needs more flexibility to accommodate childcare, an individual going through a treatment plan, or someone requiring a different pattern to aid their recovery from a physical or mental illness.  

A new flexible working law will be effective from 6 April 2024, giving employees the right to request adjustments to their working pattern from day one, rather than needing to have 26 weeks’ continuous service beforehand.

Read more: How to reply to a flexible working request

However, according to a recent poll by Acas, 70% of employees are unaware that they will have this right.  

So, how can employers communicate this to employees in a clear, inclusive way, to ensure the best outcome for all parties? 

Have open conversations up front  

It is wise for employers to be transparent about the new law up front in job adverts and interviews. This transparency serves as a strong recruitment tactic, making people immediately aware of a business’ culture of support.  

As part of the interview process at Healix, we talk about work/life balance and patterns to suit both the employee and employer, which has widened our talent pool of potential candidates.  

Leaders need to be empathetic of people’s circumstances and must ensure they ask considered questions at interview. It’s helpful to provide examples of how existing employees have benefitted from flexible working policies, to encourage people to be open about any adjustments they might need up front.

Read more: Flexible working bill receives royal assent: what HR needs to know

It is also important that employers consider the impact of accepting a request on the business. 

More often than not, open conversation will lead to a compromise that works for all parties. For example, can the employee alternate the days they take off in line with business needs? Does the individual just need a flexible working pattern for a limited time, eventually working their way back to full-time?  

Wellbeing matters 

We have heard from our customers and partners that workplace absences have increased over recent years. Only a few months ago the CIPD found that stress was one of the biggest contributors.  

One of the most common causes of stress in the workplace is having a lack of support or facing high demands. Flexible working patterns can alleviate some of this stress.  

When communicating health and wellbeing perks to staff, business leaders should ensure their employees’ right to request flexible working is clearly communicated in tandem. This can increase the likelihood of employees taking up wellbeing initiatives.

For example, a woman going through the menopause may be more likely to seek support for her symptoms via the workplace if she is aware that her employer will accommodate changes to work schedules such as later start dates or offering the option to work from home more regularly.

Read more: Legal ease: Flexible working update for April 2024

This is important for driving organisational resilience, as the sense of belonging and mutual respect this engenders can lead to increased employee engagement and productivity. Indeed, according to a report by Gartner, employee culture connectedness can increase by up to 27% when employees experience ‘emotional proximity’, or increased empathy from leaders. 

Driving a culture of respect for the individual  

Above all, it is important to consider an individual’s unique needs when discussing flexible working arrangements. Managers should be trained to pick up on when a flexible working arrangement might benefit an employee, before communicating their options tactfully. 

As the law is rolled out, it will be important for business leaders to monitor and evaluate its impact. By ensuring employees have a voice through your organisation’s feedback channels, such as an employee forum or employee survey, you’ll ensure that you’re fostering a culture of belonging and inclusivity. 

By Kate Cleminson is HR director for Healix