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New flexible working regs: kicking companies into touch or simply out of touch?

"This latest legislation is just scratching the surface," says HiBob's director of people and culture

HR leaders in the UK understand their crucial role in upholding compliance while nurturing a work environment that meets employee expectations.

As companies gear up for the implementation of the Flexible Working (Amendments) Regulation, which stared on Saturday (6 April), it's time to address the elephant in the room: does this legislation really cut it in today's world?

Read more: Does your hybrid working dream match the reality?

Let's rewind to the Covid-19 rollercoaster of 2020, when, over the course of a few weeks in March, 1.3 billion people found themselves working full-time from home. Many now embrace a hybrid form of this model and have little intention of returning to the traditional five-day office week. Moreover, the rising generations, Gen Z and Millennials, demand a strong work-life balance. The new regulations will mean that employees can make a flexible working request twice every 12 months (previously this was one). Employers need to respond to each request within two months (previously this was three).

When regulations fail to align with reality, what should HR leaders do?

The rising demand for flexibility

Flexibility isn't just a buzzword, it has become the currency of modern employment. Whether that's being able to work from a beachside cabana or more learning and development opportunities, people today want more than just a good salary.

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

So, if your company isn't proactive with its approach to flexibility don't be surprised when the best and brightest start swiping right on your competitors. This latest legislation? It's just scratching the surface. If you want to attract and retain top talent, you'll need to do better than the bare minimum.

The workplace has undergone a radical transformation, leaving its pre-2020 form in the dust. Gone are the days of sacrificing personal lives for the nine-to-five grind; long commutes, caregiving responsibilities and life admin used to encroach on precious 'life hours'. Back then, government legislation granting the right to request flexible work twice a year would have seemed like a significant step forward.

Read more: Designing flexible working strategies that meet multi-stakeholder goals

If employers want staff who are engaged, loyal, productive and excited to come to work, they need to offer flexibility that moves with life. The ability to request flexibility twice a year won’t cut it. In fact, flexibility would encourage over half of Brits (53%) to take a new job according to HiBob research, second only to a pay increase.

Flexibility is easier said than done

When talking about 'anytime, anywhere' flexible working policies, it would be remiss not to recognise how difficult offering it long-term really is. It is a huge business commitment which takes a lot of planning and ongoing maintenance. Ultimately HR teams should consider creating a framework that addresses the specific needs of employees and the business.

Steps to success

Fundamentally, flexibility is a cultural cornerstone. It starts with aligning the company's ambitions with its core values. If trust is a company's creed, but employees are tethered to desks five days a week, something isn’t right and it won’t work.

It’s important then for businesses to listen to people. Taking the time to get feedback from employees and understand their expectations will make them feel heard, while providing vital insights on how far any flexibility framework or policies need to go to retain and attract talent. Employee feedback then needs to be actioned and incorporated into the work structures that will support individuals while championing what the company values and ultimately, needs.

Read more: How to make hybrid working ‘work’

Within each company it is also likely there will be different requirements for different roles. For example, software engineers may need a more structured schedule than marketers. Having nuances within your flexible working policies and frameworks will be understandable, so long as employees feel empowered and there’s an open-door policy for honest conversations.

Remember, life can be messy, needs change, what works one week might not the next. While regulation continues to evolve, albeit at glacial speed, forward-thinking businesses will take it upon themselves to drive the change people need because when employees are happy, the whole organisation benefits culturally and commercially.

Toby Hough is director of people and culture for HiBob