The statistics in the Flux Report paint an interesting picture of a futuristic workforce with a broader age range, higher numbers of part time and temporary staff, an increase in flexible working arrangements and more contractors and freelancers. Those surveyed anticipate that permanent, full time employees will be in the minority.
These predictions may assist businesses with workforce planning, but may also send HR professionals running for the hills as they contemplate a larger, far more varied workforce. The Report also suggests that stress will become an increasing problem with businesses needing to focus on and seeking to measure employee resilience and wellness. Some may wonder whether the increase in workforce stress will hit the HR profession the hardest if the reported changes come about!
One of the predictions is that workers will work “anytime and anywhere”, with a more flexible and mobile workforce. Whilst we have recently seen some many businesses allowing their employees more flexibility as to where they work with an increase in remote working from home being made possible by today’s technology, some large companies have gone the other way and insisted on mandatory attendance in the office, citing team morale and creativity as reasons that employees should be required to interact in person whilst at work. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether this prediction will come true.
Many respondents to the survey may have been mindful of the forthcoming extension to the flexible working legislation when envisaging a national workforce with a range of different working hours and higher number of part time roles. From 6 April 2013, the right to request flexible working arrangements is being extended to cover all employees, not just those with caring responsibilities. However, whether this will have a great impact on the UK workforce remains to be seen. There has been a good deal of inaccurate reporting of this change, which is often inaccurately labelled as “a right to work flexibly”. There is no right to flexible working arrangements. There is only a duty on the employer to consider a request to work flexibly, but this does not mean that employers must grant requests.
Employee representative bodies, including many of the largest unions, have complained that the current legislation does not provide employees with the means to challenge any refusal except on very limited, mainly procedural, grounds. Crucially, employers do not have to act reasonably when considering a request for a flexible working pattern. This will not change under the new extended legislation. Employers are, therefore, left to decide if wide ranging reasons why they may not agree to a request apply. These reasons include the burden of additional costs as well as any detrimental impact on performance or quality.
Whilst the right to request flexible working has, no doubt, assisted some working parents to date, employers considering requests from parents, particularly mothers, are likely to be mindful of potential discrimination claims if request are not accommodated. However, the wider workforce is unlikely to be able to bring that additional pressure to bear on their employers when submitting requests and many employers take the view that flexible working is not suitable for all types of work. In reality, the size of the business is an important factor but the type of work is often far more determinative. Whilst some roles are often carried out on a part time, flexible or job share basis, there are plenty more jobs, particularly the more senior positions, where employers have, to date, been unwilling to consider flexible working arrangements.
Therefore, despite the hype, the reality is that the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees may make very little difference to the current position and the dramatic changes as envisaged by the Flux Report findings may take more than five years to come to fruition.
Nicola McMahon, Associate at Charles Russell LLP