With the government again encouraging people to work from home as the Omicron variant continues to spread across the UK, many will be thinking about the battles they’ve had with their employers in the past to enjoy some form of flexible working.
Some will have only been offered flexibility after they’ve been in their job for a particular length of time, and some will have been urged to go back to the office post lockdown despite being happier and more productive working from home.
But as the pandemic continues and more and more employees feel able to demonstrate they can work effectively away from the office, the government is under pressure to formalise this working option.
The TUC has called on the government to place a new duty on employers to include flexible working options, such as remote working and flexi-time, in all job adverts. Any new recruit could then take up these options from their first day, unless their employer can justify why this isn’t possible.
If this does happen, the TUC believes employees should then have a right to appeal, and be able to ask for flexible working arrangements as many times as they wish within a year.
The TUC’s call to ministers came after a survey it commissioned found that 78% of HR managers believe it would be easy to include home or remote working in job ads, or that they do it already.
Figures also showed that 70% of HR managers have already put significant flexible working arrangements in place, or believe it’s viable for their business.
But despite this high level of support for flexible working options, only a quarter of jobs currently being advertised have them listed.
Furthermore, only one in four HR managers surveyed by YouGov for the TUC said they wouldn’t offer significant flexibility to their staff following the pandemic.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, acknowledged that the legal right to request flexibility has been in place for about 20 years, but believes the current system is “broken”, and that government action is needed to deliver “practical changes for workers”.
“During the pandemic, many people were able to work flexibly or from home for the first time,” she commented.
“Staff and bosses both saw the benefits this flexibility can bring, but the current system is broken. A right to ask for flexible working is no right at all – especially when bosses can turn down requests with impunity.”
Ms O’Grady argued that attitudes to different types of flexible working have changed significantly throughout the pandemic, and ministers should “take advantage of this”.
She added that offering genuine flexibility to workers could help close the gender pay gap, keep mums in work, help disabled workers and carers stay in employment and enable dads to spend more time with their kids.
Whether the changes in our working patterns that have been driven by Covid will lead to lasting changes in the law remain to be seen.
But the pressure on policymakers and employers to acknowledge the changes that have happened in people’s lives over the last two years, and move forwards rather than backwards, will continue to grow.
Offering flexible working options could be crucial if businesses want to be seen as progressive organisations that care for their employees. And after almost two years of Covid-19, when many people have worked successfully from home, and even been promoted or started new jobs remotely, it could be very hard for many businesses to make the case that flexible working doesn’t work for them.