Twenty years ago, flexible working was the exception and not the rule. When I started my career there was a general attitude that flexible working was a perk for new mums. The response to suggestions that it could be applied more widely was 'it won't work here' or it's 'for other people, not us'.
Since then many British businesses have woken up to the facts that they can attract and retain talented staff by offering a flexible approach to work, and that a healthy work life balance contributes to individual performance, business success and growth. And developments in technology help support a multiplicity of working arrangements.
Flexible working arrangements can vary from working compressed or reduced hours, flexitime and working part-time to job sharing or home working. The latest survey of British workplaces tells us that the most common form of flexible working is flexitime, used by 30 per cent of the survey participants.
Last year, the Acas Helpline handled around 14,000 calls on the flexible working regulations. Under the current rules parents of children aged sixteen or under, or disabled children under the age of eighteen, have the right to ask their employer to work more flexibly and the employer has to reasonably consider all requests.
Some employees who have caring responsibilities for adults also have a right request to work flexibly.
From April 2014 this right to request flexible working will be extended to cover all employees who have been with their employer for 26 weeks or more, widening the pool of people who could request to change their working pattern.
For example it will cover those wanting to work flexibly alongside a further education course or other studies to improve their qualifications. Or perhaps help older workers who wish to combine working with helping to care for grandchildren or simply spend time on activities outside work.
Advice for employees making a request to work flexibly
There are a number of things you need to think about when making your request as it is up to you to make the best possible case to your employer. You can only make one application within a 12 month period, so make sure you present a clear argument including the benefits for the business. Acas suggests that you:
- put your request in writing;
- be as specific as possible about what you’re asking for, including proposed changes to hours, times or place of work or different working patterns;
- include the benefits that your request will bring to the business, as well as your reasons for making the request. You're more likely to be successful if you have considered how any contract change will affect your role and what impact it will have on the business;
- think about the impact on your team and other colleagues and how this might be managed;
- sit down with your employer and talk through your request, as a discussion may reveal new information or where adaptations might be possible.
- If your request is refused consider carefully whether you feel your employer has handled the request fairly and whether you presented all of the most important information.
- You may have the right of appeal. If you do want to appeal make sure you are clear of the process you should follow – speak to your employer or HR department
Advice for employers dealing with a request for somebody to work flexibly
Be open minded. It’s best to start from a presumption that you’re going to approve the request – you might be surprised when you think through what greater flexibility can offer you and your employee.
Show that you are acting reasonably in considering the request by:
- arranging to meet your employee to discuss it as soon as possible. He or she may wish to bring a colleague along with them, and this can be helpful;
- basing your decision on business-related reasons
- letting your employee know your final decision as soon as you can and in writing. If you refuse the request be clear about the reasons behind your decision;
- making arrangements for your employee to appeal against a refusal if they think there is some aspect of their request you didn’t handle fairly or some fact of their application you may not be aware of;
- aiming to complete the whole process within 3 months of the request, unless you and your employee agree to take longer; and
- being careful not to discriminate unlawfully in deciding applications. Acas guidance on flexible working can help you get this right.
Extending the right to request flexible working will encourage modern working patterns which meet business needs and which enable people to balance other aspects of their life with work responsibilities. Employers who offer flexibility find that it helps attract and retain skills, increase motivation and improve productivity.
At Acas our experience of working with thousands of employers shows us that employees are much more likely to go the extra mile for an employer who can accommodate their needs and that goes a long way in motivating staff and boosting productivity.