Flexible working…. making it work for you

Flexible working. It sounds great, but the reality is that until recently it was only available to anyone with a caring responsibility or children under 17.

the words work, life and balance on a paper gameThankfully, the law has now changed, so if you’ve been in your current role for 26 weeks or more, you can apply for flexible working.

What is flexible working?

It’s exactly as it sounds. There will be a degree of flexibility on how long, where, when and at what times you can work.

Flexible working examples include:

  • Part-time working: if you’re contracted to work anything less than full-time hours at your place of work.
  • Term-time working: you’ll have a permanent contract but can take paid/unpaid leave during school holidays.
  • Job-sharing: two (or occasionally more) people share the responsibility for a job between them.
  • Flextime: allows you to choose, within certain set limits, when to begin and end work.
  • Compressed hours: under this system, you can reallocate your hours (which aren’t necessarily reduced) into fewer, longer blocks throughout the week.
  • Annual hours: the total number of hours to be worked over the year is fixed but you can vary the length of your working day and week across the year. You may or may not have an element of choice over working patterns.
  • Working from home: if you regularly spend time working from home.
  • Mobile working/teleworking: this allows you to work all or part of your working week at a location other than your employer’s workplace.
  • Career breaks: sometimes known as sabbaticals, these are extended periods of leave – normally unpaid – of up to five years or more.
  • Zero hours contracts: you’ll have no guarantee of a minimum number of working hours, so you can be called upon as and when required and paid just for the hours you work.

Balancing blocks entitled finance, leisure, family and career on a woman's fingertipGet a better work-life balance

People choose flexible working for all kinds of reasons – maybe travelling more frequently, helping to look after grandchildren, winding down at work without fully retiring or simply spending a little more time on hobbies.

Now the law has changed it’s the perfect opportunity to create your own work-life balance. Let’s face it, we can’t all afford to give up work, but a little extra flexibility could make all the difference.

To ask for flexible working you need to:

  • Put your request in writing, including the date it is made, the change to working conditions you’re looking for, and the date you’d like the change to happen.
  • State if you have made a previous application for flexible work and the date of that application.
  • Make a business case for your application, to address ways around you not being there.
  • Let your employer know if you are making your request in relation to the Equality Act 2010.

You can only make one request in any 12-month period. Your employer will need to consider your request – or any appeals – within three months, and they’ll need to have a sound business reason not to accept your application.

What should your employer do?

Once they receive your request, there is a four-step process your employer will need to follow:

Step one. Arrange a meeting to discuss the request (this should be done as soon as possible, it isn’t mandatory, but is good practice).

Step two. At the meeting, you can explore the changes you’re asking for and reasons for the change. Many employers allow you to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative.

Legally, this process should be completed within three months of your request being received (this includes any appeals). If your request is accepted then it will be a permanent change to your employment contract – or you may be able to negotiate a temporary change.

You employer may even be willing to grant your request without a meeting – but this is useful to make sure everything is clear and both parties are happy with the terms.

Step three. Your employer needs to consider your request in a reasonable manner, only refusing if one of the following business reasons applies:

  • the burden of additional costs
  • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff or to recruit additional staff
  • a negative impact on quality or performance
  • a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • insufficient work for the periods you propose to work
  • a planned structural changes to the business

Step four. All requests must be responded to in writing, either to accept or reject your application. If it is rejected you’ll always be offered the right to appeal.

It’s all in the planning…

I know this seems like a very long-winded process, but it doesn’t have to be if your application is well thought out.

Consider all angles when requesting flexible working. You know your business well, so be realistic and try thinking from your employer’s point of view as well as your own.

It’s easy to get distracted by what you want, rather than what will work on a practical level, which will make it more likely your request will be declined.

Don’t be afraid to appeal any decision if it is rejected, and look at ways to negotiate and compromise with your employer. They don’t have to grant your request, but most will want to look at what they can do to help you.

Maybe suggest a trial, for both sides to see what is working or not, then you can revert back or tweak where necessary, or move forward with your new working pattern that works for everyone.

It’s in everyone’s interests that you have a good work-life balance. All aspects of your life will be happier, and your work will improve as a result.

Find out more…

Shirley Atkinson

About Shirley Atkinson

I’m a friendly and approachable HR Advisor at Fidler & Pepper Solicitors. I'm available to help with all business HR issues such as disciplinary, grievance, performance management and all other people management issues. I enjoy walking my dogs, spending time with family and have a master plan to travel the world.