1. Executive summary
Flexible working is a change to an employee’s working hours, location or pattern. It is a broad term, and can relate to working hours or pattern: part-time, term-time, flexi-time, compressed hours, or adjusting start and finish times. It can also include flexibility over where someone works.
Arrangements for flexible working can be agreed between employers and employees on a contractual or non-contractual basis. Employees may ask for flexible working through the statutory right to request, or an informal non-statutory route – for example a discussion with their manager.
The statutory Right to Request Flexible Working has been in place for 20 years. It sets out a formal route through which employees can request flexible working, and (if agreed by their employer) it results in a contractual change. We know that many employers and employees negotiate and agree arrangements informally outside of this system. We want to explore this further through this call for evidence.
Having access to flexible working can be a key factor in determining whether someone is able to perform to their best ability at work, or even stay in or return to work at all. This includes non-contractual as well as contractual arrangements. For example, starting work at 9:30am rather than 9am can help a parent to manage the school drop off, and can make all the difference to whether they are able to return to work. For employers, providing a little bit of flexibility can help retain staff they have spent time and money training, and help attract talent in a competitive labour market.
Through this call for evidence, we are seeking responses from individuals and employers on their experience of non-statutory flexible working, including how it has worked in practice. We are particularly interested in hearing about examples of best practice.
This call for evidence follows commitments made in last year’s response to the consultation “making flexible working the default” and the Chancellor’s Spring Budget statement, in relation to helping people into employment.
You can respond on behalf of an organisation or as an individual. The easiest way to participate in this call for evidence is by completing the online survey.
2. Introducing non-statutory flexible working
For the purposes of this call for evidence, flexible working is defined in a number of ways:
Statutory: contractual flexible working arrangements agreed using the statutory Right to Request Flexible Working legislation.
Non-statutory (regular): flexible working arrangements which are regular, recurring and/or standardised, but agreed outside the statutory right to request framework. For example, an individual works two days per week from home and works three days in a workplace. This arrangement is generally understood by the individual to reflect either an agreement between themselves and their manager/supervisor or an agreed organisational approach to this way of working.
Non-statutory (ad hoc): flexible working arrangements which are occasional, time-limited and irregular in nature without significant impact on others in the workplace. For example, an individual agrees with their manager to alter the start and end times of consecutive workdays at short notice to enable their attendance at a medical appointment.
These categories are not mutually exclusive. An individual may benefit from arrangements under each of these headings – for example, someone working part time may alter the start and end times of consecutive working days to accommodate a medical appointment.
3. Why are we interested?
3.1 Developing an evidence base
The government has most recently been focussed on statutory flexible working accessed via the statutory right to request flexible working[footnote 1]. As a result, we have tended to collect and analyse data which is mostly about statutory flexible working.
The government published its Post Implementation Review[footnote 2] of the 2014 Flexible Working Regulations in September 2021 which demonstrated the importance of flexible working arrangements in helping people to access, stay and progress in work while also managing other commitments and priorities. For instance, over 8 million people in the UK work part-time, representing 25.2% of the working population.
However, our evidence base on non-statutory flexible working is less robust. We believe that significantly more flexible working is taking place on a non-statutory basis and want to better understand this.
Improving our evidence base in this area will help to inform the government’s future flexible working strategy.
3.2 Benefits to business
This call for evidence also explores the business case for non-statutory flexible working.
We know there are times when standard working patterns can be flexed and adapted to meet customer demand. These situations require employers and their staff to be agile in ways that cannot always be accounted for in employment contracts. For example, agreeing to work later on a Thursday at short notice to deal with an unexpected issue and subsequently starting work later on a Friday.
We also know that being open to flexible working can increase the number of applications when jobs are advertised. Further, it is a valuable tool to support staff retention.
We want to understand more about whether and how businesses are using flexible working practices in this way, as well as any other business benefits.
3.3 Labour market participation
The Spring Budget Statement set out to address the challenge of increasing labour market participation. The latest figures show that there are currently 8.7 million people who are economically inactive in the UK and that this number has increased by 281,000 among those aged between 16 and 64, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
We know that flexible working can help to support the workforce participation of those who are currently economically inactive, including parents, carers, older workers, the long-term sick and disabled people.
For these groups, having access to flexibility on a non-statutory basis can help them to manage their personal circumstances – whether it’s a fluctuating health condition or a caring responsibility – whilst staying in work. These circumstances will often throw up challenges at short notice which necessitate a flexible approach to work.
We are particularly interested in responses from individuals within these groups, to understand the extent to which non-contractual flexible working can encourage them into work and the barriers that might prevent take-up of these arrangements.
4. Scope of the call for evidence
The government wishes to add to our anecdotal evidence on non-statutory flexible working. The primary objective of this exercise is therefore to develop our understanding in this area.
The questions in this call for evidence focus on the types of non-statutory flexible working defined above. This includes some specific forms of flexibility that may be captured by formal contractual arrangements or policies – for instance access to compassionate or special leave. We are interested in hearing where these policies exist and the issues they cover.
The call for evidence is divided into three sections. The first two sections ask what is happening specifically in relation to flexible working, whether that is ad hoc or regular, other than requests made through the statutory Right to Request process. We want to understand the extent to which individuals and business are using it, how and why they are using it, as well as the barriers and the benefits.
The third section seeks qualitative information on employer practices. We are particularly interested in receiving responses that include examples of best practice and case studies.
The first section of the survey covers non-statutory (ad hoc) flexible working arrangements. We are seeking your views on how and why individuals use this type of workplace flexibility, as well as questions about access and barriers to take-up. This section also contains questions for employers on whether, how and for what reasons they provide this type of flexibility.
The second section covers non-statutory (regular) flexible working arrangements. We are seeking your views on whether and what arrangements employers offer and how they are agreed, including what determines whether these arrangements are agreed contractually or not.
The third section considers organisational approaches to non-statutory flexible working, and includes questions on policies, supporting managers and monitoring and evaluation.
6. How to respond
The easiest way to participate in the call for evidence is by completing the online survey.
If you have any technical problems with using the online survey, log the issue by emailing email@example.com.
Do not send any personal information to this email address.
7. Next steps
The call for evidence will be open for 16 weeks and will close at 11.59pm on 7th November. Responses received will help to develop the government’s evidence base on non-contractual flexible working and inform our future flexible working strategy.
8. Privacy notice
See the DBT privacy notice contained within the online survey.