Why we can’t be caught standing still on flexible working

New regulations coming into effect in April empower employees to request a working arrangement better suited to their needs

Women in Business
New working regulations coming into effect across the UK will soon empower employees to request a flexible working arrangement better suited to their needs from day one

Contemporary flexible working was the theme underpinning last week’s Flexible Futures conference, held in Belfast by the Labour Relations Agency in partnership with Timely Careers and the Department for the Economy.

The energy in the room was palpable with progressive and forward-thinking initiatives being embraced. Businesses, industry professionals and permanent secretary Ian Snowden came together to examine flexible working as a concept and its potential for unlocking a more inclusive and productive economy in Northern Ireland. A message endorsed by Minister for the Economy Conor Murphy, who shared his support from Washington D.C.

Proof is in the data, too, with the latest McKinsey report indicating that fully diverse organisations outperform by 39%, while an increase in employee flexibility has been shown to help boost revenue and performance by 43% and 20%, respectively, as found by the 2023 CIPD Good Work Index.

Which only drives home the point that Northern Ireland cannot be caught standing still on the frontier of flexible working.

New working regulations coming into effect across the UK will soon empower employees to request a flexible working arrangement better suited to their needs from day one. April 6th will see the removal of the 26-week requirement on flexible working requests for those in England, Scotland and Wales, a move that will surely help challenge the binary thinking on work patterns which can now be inclusive of part time, flexi-time, term time, job share, compressed or reduced hours, or simply working from home.

Yet the Flexible Working Bill comes with a disheartening disclaimer for those of us in Northern Ireland; as employment law here is a devolved matter, the Bill won’t apply to NI when it comes into effect for other UK regions on April 6.

It’s a source of frustration for people here seeking a career arrangement that works for them. Without the proper legislation on flexible working, parents, carers and those with a disability are more likely to lose out on senior leadership opportunities which not only curbs

professional development, it also impacts diversity at the top level of business. Without intervention our workforce will only continue to haemorrhage these pools of talent.

At the Flexible Futures conference, the discussions focused on what flexible working can bring to all industries and sectors in Northern Ireland, including office-based jobs, retail, hospitality, healthcare, and manufacturing. How we might collectively redefine the working day so companies can bring the best out of their employees. An energised workforce is a productive workforce.

Laura Dowie
Laura Dowie Laura Dowie

The inherent power of flexibility is that it applies to everyone - those with families, those with caring responsibilities, and those without. At Timely Careers, our aim is to permanently move the needle on flexible working and help shape the workplace of the future in a way which not only creates inclusive jobs, but does so in a way that makes sound business and economic sense.

  • Laura Dowie is director of Timely Careers, part of The WiB Group