Planning a flexible working request

Planning your flexible working application

While you are well within your rights to submit a statutory, non-statutory or employer scheme related flexible working application, it is important to do your research first.

When submitting a statutory request for flexible working, there is a specific process and your company may have similar guidelines for non-statutory and scheme related submissions. The more telling you can make your argument, the more chance your employer will look favourably on your application.

Are your existing working arrangements compatible with change?

There are various roles in various industries where there may be limited scope to change your working hours. For example, those working in the investment industry are effectively tied to market opening hours. Alternatively, those in the teaching profession are effectively tied to the traditional teaching day. As you can see, some industries are more suitable for flexible working hours than others.

When considering your flexible working application, there are various issues to take into consideration such as:-

  • Define the scope of your role

Many people will focus on their main areas of responsibility while perhaps ignoring other time critical activities. In order to make a successful flexible working submission, you need to fully understand the scope of your employment.

  • Clarify your current working pattern

When looking at the potential to work more flexible hours, it is important that you clarify your current working pattern. Are there some elements which may accommodate change while others are fixed?

  • Current working hours

On occasion you will see that your traditional working hours may differ slightly from your contracted working hours, under an agreement with your employer. So, be aware of your statutory working hours and your actual working hours.

  • Fixed/optional working hours

Do you have a degree of fixed working hours; optional working hours or perhaps you have a zero hour’s contract arrangement. Make sure that you are negotiating changes to your working day using your correct fixed/optional working hours.

  • Is your role flexible at the moment?

In some cases, you may find that your current employment role has a degree of flexibility which may not require potentially long-winded negotiations. You may be able to activate various conditions in your employment contract to the benefit of all parties.

  • Place of employment

In light of COVID we could see a significant increase in the number of people working from home or remotely. If you’re looking to change your working hours, you will need to take into account your place of employment and access to the office, equipment, etc. out of hours.

  • Switching your place of employment

On occasion it may be difficult to switch working hours due to specific business practices. In this scenario, it may be that your employer is open to switching your place of work. This also ties in with the growing trend towards working from home.

  • How might the changes impact your team?

Where an employee works in isolation, the impact on their colleagues may be minimal. However, if you are part of a team this can make it more difficult to create a new working structure. You will need to consider your fellow team members.

  • Does your role require face-to-face contact?

Where you are servicing customers, attending meetings with colleagues, or any other face-to-face contact, it can be difficult to switch working hours. If your role requires that you are available for face-to-face meetings, this could impact your plans.

  • Are you a customer facing member of staff?

If for example you work in a high street shop, which closes at 5 o’clock, it would be nonsensical to switch your working hours to nightshift. The same can be said about many customer-related businesses, where the opportunities for flexible working hours can be restricted.

  • Does your role require more than one person?

The majority of flexible working applications involve those who are able to work alone to a certain degree. If your position is part of a chain or team, this could severely impact business efficiency and output.

  • Are you currently discriminated against?

Many people who apply for flexible working hours do so as a consequence of a change in their life. This may involve children, family commitments and other private issues. However, on occasion you may feel disadvantaged as a consequence of your age, sex, race, disability, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. In this instance, your rights to a change in your working practice are certainly much stronger. However, you will still have to prove your case.

What is your preferred working structure?

While there are some flexible working applications which are effectively taken out of the hands of employers and employees, some of them are more open to negotiation. One such issue is your preferred working structure. It may be that working different hours, different days or in a different location, will improve your efficiency and therefore benefit your employer.

Again, there are numerous issues to take into consideration such as:-

  • Most productive time of day

Some people are morning people, some prefer the afternoon while others prefer the evening. If you can match your new flexible working hours with your most productive time of the day, it is a potential win-win for all parties.

  • Motivation and working by yourself

Many job roles will depend upon the individual’s motivation and ability to work by themselves. Are you suited to working on your own? Are you able to work to deadlines? Do you require the buzz of an office or are you happy working from home or remotely?

  • Modern communication systems

Whether using Skype, video-conferencing, telephone, email or any other type of modern communication systems, are you confident when left to your own devices? Even those who work out of the office will at some point need to communicate with their colleagues and management.

  • Would non-interaction with colleagues impact your output?

Sometimes we don’t recognise the power of working in an office, bouncing ideas off one another and chatting things through. If a lack of interaction would impact the quality of your work and output, it may be that flexible hours/locations are not the answer.

  • Could you retain focus working outside the office?

While the idea of rolling out of bed, into the office and beginning work sounds perfect for many people, could you retain your focus on work? Some people prefer the rigid structure of the working day, leaving home, going to the office, returning home. While others are able to use their own motivation and focus to provide constant, if not improved results.

  • Is your job really suitable for part-time hours?

Interestingly, while many people choose to reduce their working hours, they can easily get dragged into working additional hours free of charge. Unless everything is structured correctly, you may end up with similar volumes of work which need completed in a reduced period of time. Make sure you think everything through.

  • Can you separate home life from business life?

Experts believe that the trend towards working from home will grow stronger, especially in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic. Many people don’t find out until it is too late, but it can be extremely difficult to separate your working life from your private life. You still need strict working hours, and there will be times you will not be available for work or the family. Make sure everybody knows the rules.

What is your starting position in flexible working negotiations?

While you might have a perfect flexible working framework in the mind, you may need to do some negotiating. That said it is important to go in with your preferred option and be specific about the arrangements. In your request there are a number of issues to consider such as:-

  • Your ideal option

If you enter negotiations with a “rough idea” of what you have in mind, this can look unprofessional. So, work out your preferred option, the details regarding hours, days, etc. and make that your starting point.

  • Working hours

When submitting an application for flexible working hours, you need to be specific with regards to hours, pay, flexibility and even location. Are you looking for fewer hours, perhaps you want to retain your hours but be more flexible with timing?

  • Do you require significant changes?

It is interesting to note the number of times flexible working applications have been made, only to find relatively small changes can make a huge difference. For example, would flexible start and finishing times make a difference to your situation? What if you had the option to work from home a couple of days a week?

  • Are your preferred changes permanent or temporary?

There is a general misconception that when applying for flexible working hours, these need to be permanent. They don’t. You may have particular issues to solve in the short-term, after which you would prefer to revert back to your previous hours. This is an option, although you need to let your employer know what is happening.

  • Career breaks/sabbaticals

You may actually find that a relatively short career break/sabbatical may be enough to address outside issues impacting your working hours. Many employers would prefer their employees to take time off if this is needed. Reduced productivity and an unhappy workforce benefit no one. If a short break is agreed, you would be allowed to return back on your original terms.

  • Can you see any issues going forward

When making a statutory or non-statutory submission for flexible working it would be useful to note any potential problems going forward. If you are aware of potential problems, then you can consider alternative arrangements. If these issues were to arise for the first time during negotiations, this may weaken your hand.

Have you considered backup arrangements?

With the best will in the world, even the most organised and detailed flexible working hours will likely require some form of backup arrangements. These include:-

  • Childcare

Childcare tends to be one of the more common reasons that people apply for flexible working hours. However, it is important to have in place backup arrangements such as family members, friends, etc in the event that you are unable to leave work at short notice.

In a perfect world, your employer would allow you to leave the office at a minute’s notice for issues such as childcare. However, from a business point of view this may not always be possible. There needs to be some give-and-take, a form of middle ground.

  • Occasional extra work

While many employers will seek to accommodate flexible working hours as much as possible, on occasion there may be additional work required. Are you in a situation where you would be able to assist your employer with additional hours? When it comes to issues such as childcare, it is important to have a backup plan.

  • Supporting your role

Depending upon your role in the company, you need to be honest and consider whether your flexible working life, and private life, allows you the required level of focus to carry out your work. If for example part of your role was socialising with clients on a regular basis, would you be able to do this?

  • Sharing responsibilities

The majority of flexible working application tend to come from families where both parents are working. In this scenario, is there any way in which you can share responsibilities to remove some of the burden from your employer?

In reality, it is highly likely that your employer would need to bring in backup plans in the event that they allowed your flexible working request. While you are legally entitled to request some working practice changes, it is better to work with your employer than against them. The stronger your relationship going forward, the more chance of your change in working practices being a success.

The financial impact of flexible working hours

When considering a request for flexible working, it is important to balance the impact on your income, family life and future. If your request is approved on a permanent basis, it may be difficult for your employer to revert back to your original hours in the future. As a consequence of your initial changes, your employer would need to make alternative arrangements which may mean bringing in additional members of staff.

  • What is the minimum income you require?

When considering flexible working hours, it is probably best to work out the minimum amount you would need each month and work backwards. Remember, even though your working hours may be changing, your rate of pay wont. So, in theory you should be able to calculate the minimum hours you need each week and see if this is workable.

  • Impact on future finances

As the majority of people tend to apply for reduced hours, this can have a significant long-term impact on your finances. It may be that a reduction in your working hours means a reduction in pension contributions by your employer. Some bonuses may be based upon average hours per month, so if you cut your hours you may receive a reduced bonus. When looking at issues such as childcare and medical issues, you may also need to consider the benefits system with some payments means tested.

It is important to think through both the positive and the negative impact on your finances and your lifestyle, as a consequence of a change in working hours. In many scenarios you may not have an option; you need to reduce your hours. Whatever the situation, it is very important to be aware of the financial changes and how you could make up any shortfall. It may be that you are in a relationship and your partner is able to take on additional hours?

Short-term pain, long-term career again

If it is obvious that your preferred working practice changes are not viable, you may need to consider retaining your original hours and working times. Is there any way you can make short-term changes outside of your working life? Perhaps you could utilise your holidays more efficiently to dovetail with the demands of your private life?

Many people also fail to consider the long-term career consequences of even a short-term change in their working practices. Those undertaking training, practical and theoretical, will need to consider whether they will still have the time to do this. So, there is a need to consider the financial implications, working implications and then we have general health/mental health. There is an awful lot to consider.

Talking with friends and colleagues

It may be that changes in your working hours can have a knock-on effect to your friends and colleagues. Unless you are able to approach them prior to your flexible working application, this may cause problems. As a consequence, it is important to chat with your friends, colleagues and family members before deciding what to do and how to approach it. If you have colleagues and line management on board with your proposed changes, there is more chance of your flexible working application succeeding.

As requests for flexible working hours are becoming more commonplace, you will probably find that numerous individuals in your workplace have gone through the same process. It could prove priceless to get the pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages and advice on the best way in which to approach your employers.

Planning ahead is the key

Whether looking at the impact on your colleagues, home life, finances or health, it is important that you plan ahead before applying for flexible working hours. While many people prefer to enter negotiations without considering potential problems, it is important to be aware of any possible issues. In many cases you will find that awareness of potential problems is looked on favourably by your employers. This may well allow you to think about alternatives, potential changes and adapt your request for flexible working.

Talk to your employer, listen to your employer and try to find some middle ground which gives the best result for all parties. Above all in your flexible working application, prepare to negotiate.