Flexible working ‘now expected as standard’ by applicants for travel jobs

Travel firms that try to mirror other sectors in demanding full-time returns to office roles are unlikely to retain or attract employees who now expect flexible contracts as standard.

That was the view of speakers at Travel Weekly’s third annual People Summit, who said the right to expect flexible working was likely to “become the norm” under proposed reforms if a Labour government comes to power next month.

Kuoni retail director Donna Hynes (pictured) said: “Flexible working is here to stay – that’s what our teams want. And to retain and attract top talent, we have to make that happen.”

The travel agency and tour operator is considering how to increase flexible working for staff and is in talks with landlords and shopping centres to discuss issues such as store opening hours.

“We are looking at flexible working arrangements and [we have] a new sense of purpose around what our people want. We are working with landlords and shopping centres. It’s very much work in progress but we are making good progress,” she said.

Deloitte partner on human consulting Hazel Patmore said the importance of a work-life balance was still “number one” for travel staff – particularly Gen Z and millennials, spanning late-teens to early-40s – and noted a “disconnect” with employers that want more fixed working arrangements.

“Three-fifths of organisations still see the importance of providing flexibility and variance of contracts; it’s still seen as critical,” she said.

“Two‑thirds of employees are taking up flexible working contracts or arrangements. It’s still an incredibly important factor despite the fact other industries are encouraging five days back in the office.”

The requirement for flexible working is one of a growing list from candidates, according to employers, who reported it was still “tough” to recruit staff despite an improvement in the jobs market and a better balance between supply and demand.

C&M Recruitment senior appointments sales manager Tim Robinson said job title and salary were no longer enough to entice new recruits. He cited examples of candidates turning down job offers based on annual holiday entitlement of 21 days rather than 25 days or because of a requirement to be in the office three to four days a week.

“More and more candidates are asking about the benefits, the culture and career progression opportunities. The list of what candidates want is forever growing. Employers are having to do much more,” he said.

The comments came as Labour pledged to enhance employees’ rights to work flexibly if it wins power in the July 4 general election.

Currently, employees have the right to make one flexible working request every 12 months once they have accrued 26 weeks’ service.

Matthew Leake, partner and global head of employment law and labour relations at Kennedys law firm, told the summit Labour’s proposal would shift flexible working to becoming “much more the norm and a feature of the workplace”.

He said: “Under Labour proposals, flexible working is the default rather than having to apply [for it] unless it’s not reasonably feasible.”

Similarly, Labour has indicated it would introduce a legal “right to disconnect” to allow staff to switch off from work, and a “day one right” for employees to claim unfair dismissal, subject to probation.

“It’s part of a trend to move towards a much more family-friendly workplace,” added Leake, who said details of the proposals were as yet unclear. Labour’s manifesto was due to be published today (Thursday).

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