By guest blogger and CIPD Member Gemma Dale.

I was delighted to see the new campaign from the CIPD, calling on organisations and the government to make the right to request flexibly working from the first day of employment. The law relating to flexible working has gone through several updates since it was first implemented almost two decades ago. What has not changed in that time has been perhaps its greatest limitation: the 26-week waiting period before an employee can legally make a flexible working request.  Too many organisational policies have unthinkingly adopted the statutory minimum requirements, resulting in the contradiction of inflexible considerations of flexibility.

In practice, this has a number of implications for both employees and organisations.  Firstly, it is a barrier to talent acquisition.  Many job seekers want or need flexible working. Where the organisation fails to signal during the recruitment process that flexibility is on offer, potential candidates may pass on taking the time to apply.  Candidates who already work flexibly for their current employer may not be inclined to apply for a role where they would not be able even to ask for flexible working arrangements for six months – taking the chance on an application that may or may not be granted.

Every party to the recruitment process, prospective employee, manager and the organisation itself, is best served by having a conversation about flexibility at the earliest possible stage.  Waiting for this discussion benefits no one. In the worst case scenario, an employee who has waited for 26 weeks to make their request leaves their new role if that request is denied.  At this point all of the costs associated with recruitment and induction have already been borne, leaving the employer to go through this time consuming and expensive process all over again.  If flexible working isn’t going to be available – and there are times when it may not be operationally possible – it is preferable to have this conversation at the outset to avoid everyone wasting their time.

There’s another problem with the 26-week waiting period, and this is one of culture and trust [that’s two problems?].  I believe that there is an underlying implication inherent with this length-of-service criteria that the right to work flexibly somehow needs to be ‘earned’.  That perhaps flexibility is a benefit for employees who have demonstrated high performance.  Despite what we would hope was a robust recruitment and selection process designed to identify the best possible candidate, new employees must somehow prove themselves further before they can be considered suitable to undertake modern working practices, or (depending on the type of flexibility applied for) work without direct supervision.  It hardly needs saying that this is not a great way to start an employment relationship or establish employee engagement.

Introducing policies that support flexible working requests from day one of employment reduces the barriers preventing access to flexibility.  When such policies are combined with advertising vacancies as open to flexible working and equipping managers to have conversations about flexible working during the recruitment process, we have flexibility that can truly work successfully for both employer and employee, progressing the case for flexibility for all.

HR professionals everywhere – it’s time to make our policies fit for purpose.  It’s time for #FlexFrom1st. 

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