Negotiating flexible working hours

How to negotiate flexible working hours

The art of negotiation will play an integral role in securing a suitable outcome for your original flexible working hours request. We will take a look at the issues to consider, expectations and how you can save what may seem like a failing request.

One thing is very important. While it is okay to be passionate about your request, it is imperative that you keep your cool. If tempers start to fray, it can be difficult to rescue your negotiations.

Negotiating styles

Each of us will likely have a slightly different opinion about the appropriate type of negotiating style to use when discussing a flexible working request. There are three main styles to take into consideration:-

Passive negotiations

We will cover this subject later in the article, but some people are not comfortable negotiating and may take a passive approach to discussions. This would likely mean that your employer will lead the way, will mould the final shape of your new working hours and it may not be to your full satisfaction. As soon as your employer realises you are taking a passive approach they may be quite aggressive and forthright. If this is your situation, it may be an idea to ask somebody else to negotiate on your behalf.

Balanced approach to negotiations

In reality, a balanced approach to negotiating your flexible working hours is the most sensible and very often the most productive. Remember, while you may have very firm ideas of what you “need”, your changes should not be to the detriment of the business or your colleagues. Many people forget that even after negotiating your flexible working hours, you still need to work with your employer. A hard-nosed approach will not help this long-term relationship.

Hard-nosed negotiations

When entering discussions about a pay rise, or possible promotion, this may be the time to take a hard-nosed approach to negotiations. You know your value; you know what you can do and so does your employer. However, when you are looking for a “favour” or at least some flexibility from your employer, this is not the best approach. If you dig your heels in and offer no flexibility then your employer is likely to do the same. At the end of the day, if you are not able to come to an agreement then you will simply remain on your existing working arrangement.

When you see the different negotiating styles in writing, and there are distinct differences, it makes sense to take a balanced approach. Yes, by all means defend your corner and your request, but also see the situation from your employer’s point of view.

Third parties negotiating on your behalf

Some people are wary of conflict and would find it difficult to negotiate directly with management. So long as your flexible working request is reasonable and workable, there is no reason why your employer would not give it due consideration. As long as your employer is open to the idea, you could ask for other parties to negotiate on your behalf. These may include:-

Trade union representatives

If you are a member of a trade union, it makes sense to use their services and experience especially in this kind of situation. Even if you were confident enough to carry out your own negotiations, they could still prove to be a useful observer during discussions.

For those who find it difficult to negotiate, a trade union representative should be able to present and discuss your flexible working request with employers. In this situation it is important that you discuss any flexibility/leeway before entering the meeting – ensure that the representative knows how much negotiating room they have to play with.


As we have mentioned in various articles, if you can get colleagues and immediate management on your side when presenting a flexible working request, this can make a huge difference. Therefore, if you are unable to negotiate yourself, it may be that a colleague or even your manager may be able to step into the breach (or even consider a joint presentation). You would still be in the meeting room with them, but they would be putting your points across, looking to negotiate an acceptable solution.

Independent third-party

There are bodies such as ACAS who offer assistance in this area, but there may be a cost using an independent third party. As long as both sides are flexible, and appreciate each other’s position, a colleague or trade union representative should more than suffice. However, an independent third-party is always an option.

Your basic approach to negotiations

In many cases it will depend upon who is carrying out the negotiations on behalf of your employer as to what kind of approach you take. A line manager may take a very different approach to a director of the company. Therefore, it is important to:-

  • Appreciate the position of your employer even if you don’t necessarily agree with their comments/suggestions
  • Put yourself in the shoes of your employer and ask yourself, honestly, what approach you would take
  • Not to use confrontational language and try to “blame” your employer for the situation you find yourself in
  • Remain calm and collected at all times, once the meeting gets heated, flexibility and a balanced approach can go out of the window
  • Focus on the positives, and issues that you agree on, while trying to expand them to accommodate your request

Whatever your approach, it is vital that in the back of your mind you also consider the long-term relationship with your employer. If your employer feels pushed into a corner, with little or no flexibility, they may agree to your flexible working request but this you could harm your long-term working relationship. Try to find a balance!

What might your employer reasonably agree to?

Many people make the mistake of entering flexible working negotiations focusing on their own situation, while not appreciating that of their employer. They can sit down in a meeting, be hit with a barrage of negativity and all of a sudden their request fails because they weren’t prepared. If you can try to guess the kind of comments and issues your employer might raise about your request, you can prepare answers.

In some cases, you could even pre-empt their concerns by highlighting positive issues which they may have overlooked. These are some of the issues you should keep in mind when entering negotiations:-

  • Would a trial period be helpful to your employer, if they are unsure that your flexible working request is feasible
  • Put yourself in the shoes of your employer, suggesting solutions and workarounds which suit both parties
  • Highlight the fact that very often a positive approach to flexible working will help the company retain skilled workers
  • Focus on the fact that part-time workers are often more productive because they tend to work in short sharp bursts, as opposed to full working days which can be tiring
  • It may be possible to reduce company expenses by sharing desk space, equipment where there is an element of job sharing/split shifts
  • Mention the cost of recruiting and training replacements, if you were forced to leave the company
  • Use of split shifts and job sharing can in many scenarios lead to an extended working day for the company, creating additional sales and improving profitability
  • If possible, try to get your immediate management on board to support your case and help to highlight the benefits to the company

If your employer believes that your request is manageable and more importantly, would lead to increased productivity and profit, why would they say no? Even though flexible working requests are more commonplace today, not all companies have a long track record in this area. So, you may be starting from ground zero when looking to convince your employer – don’t let that hold you back.

Always have a backup plan

While it is obviously important to focus on the detail of your flexible working request, it makes sense to have a backup plan. It may be that your employer is simply not able to accommodate your request from a practical or even a legal point of view. Even in this difficult situation, your employer may be more receptive to alternative suggestions if you:-

  • Display a degree of flexibility and appreciation of their position
  • Can demonstrate you have looked into an alternative solution in great detail
  • Take a creative approach to the problem, this may include job sharing, working from home and other alternatives
  • Consider a partial change in your working practice, suggesting time in the office and some time working from home

Unless you are flexible and have an alternative solution, you may back yourself into a corner if your employer cannot accommodate your original request. Unfortunately, in this situation it may be that you are forced to go your separate ways and leave the company. So, while you should focus on your original flexible working request, always have a compromise or a backup plan in place.

Initial negotiations are not the end of the matter

Many people automatically assume that if initial discussions are not successful, that is the end of their flexible working request. The situation is slightly different when it comes to statutory, non-statutory and company scheme sponsored requests, but there are still other actions to consider. For example, you could:-

  • Approach an independent third party, such as ACAS, to continue negotiations on a more formal basis
  • Look at alternative solutions for your situation, outside of the workplace, which could involve friends and family becoming more involved
  • Make a formal complaint if your statutory rights have been compromised or you believe you have been the victim of discrimination
  • Consider resigning and making a claim for constructive/unfair dismissal if you have experienced discrimination, or the statutory process has not been followed
  • Accept that no compromise can be reached, resign and find a suitable position with another employer

While many people see flexible working requests as a battle between employees and employers, this is not necessarily the case. There will be genuine situations where your employer is simply unable to accommodate your flexible working request. In many cases, employees will fully appreciate this and may be forced to look at alternative options. It is unlikely that any responsible employer would be happy losing a valued employee, but situations can change and solutions can be difficult, if not impossible to find.

Taking a flexible approach

It is important that you take a flexible approach to negotiations, defending your position, but appreciating that of your employer. Agreements, whether compromises or acceptance of your initial flexible working request, are more likely to be found during more cordial discussions.

Those meetings where tempers can become frayed, heels dug in and a lack of flexibility on both sides are unlikely to result in an acceptable solution. Remain calm, focused, and ready to fight your corner for you flexible working hours request but also consider a degree of compromise.