In a perfect world, you would put forward your flexible working request and your employer would rubber-stamp this immediately. Job done! Unfortunately, it is very rare that flexible working requests will go through without some kind of discussion with your employer.
When it comes to statutory requests, employers are obliged to sit down and discuss the situation with you. With non-statutory and company sponsored scheme requests, this may not be the case. It is important that you know your rights and all of the options, so that you can be prepared.
- Preparing to fight your cause
- Arranging the practicalities of your meeting
- Can a friend, colleague or companion accompany you?
- Put yourself in the position of your employer
- The financial cost of losing an employee
- Why might your employer refuse your request?
- Preparation is the key
We know there are responsibilities and obligations on all sides when it comes to flexible working requests, but ultimately it needs to work for all parties. It is important to maintain a strong working relationship with your employer, which might mean being a little more flexible with your request than you had originally planned.
Statistics show that those requests which highlight positives for your employer, business and colleagues have a significantly greater chance of success. So, when preparing for your flexible working request:-
- Where possible, expand on any points made in your initial letter/email that demonstrate you have given great consideration to the consequences of your request
- While you don’t want to show all of your cards when you sit at the table, you should be ready to negotiate
- Put yourself in the position of your employer, how would you react to the terms and conditions you are putting forward with your flexible working request? This will prompt you to prepare answers for questions you might expect from your employer
- Be flexible – if you dig your heels in, your employer is likely to do the same
- In cases where there are differences of opinion, it may be useful to consider a temporary arrangement or some kind of trial period
- While you will have your preferred start date in mind, you might need to be flexible and open to negotiation – does your employer need more time?
- Some flexible working discussions can be intimidating, ask if you can bring in a colleague/companion as support and to offer assistance
- If you are allowed to bring in a companion, ensure that both of you know your role! Disputes in the middle of a discussion do not look good
- Prepare notes – you may have all of the answers and all of the questions in your head, but under pressure these can just disappear in the blink of an eye
When looking down the list, the chances are you will have thought of the majority of the points raised. It does no harm to be reminded!
The practical elements of your meeting should be discussed and agreed prior to the day – allowing more time for you to concentrate on presenting your case. The practicalities of your meeting are very important:-
- Are there any disabilities to take into consideration
- Perhaps a phone discussion is not the best way to get your points across
- Maybe you would like to take somebody with you for support
You will often find that the practicalities of your meeting are covered in your employment contract or separate company handbook. Even if you are not able to find details on your company intranet or as part of your employment contract, it would be sensible to double check with your human resources department.
The idea of taking in a colleague or a companion is an interesting one but one often dismissed by employees. However, if you take a step back and look at the situation from a distance, the likes of ACAS, the arbitration service, believe it is good practice to have someone with you. Their role within the meeting may need to be clarified but in the vast majority of cases it is simply as an observer.
Unfortunately, even with the best will in the world, these types of meetings between employees and employers can be challenging and sometimes result in an intimidating atmosphere. Somebody in the room supporting your cause can make a huge difference. If there are witnesses, it may also make your employer think twice before voicing any potentially controversial opinions.
Put yourself in the position of your employer so that you can see the pros and cons of your flexible working request. One issue often overlooked is the cost of recruitment. Advertising, viewing CVs, organising interviews and assigning the best individual for the role are all time-consuming and can be expensive. Therefore, it is highly likely that your employer would rather keep you, even if adjustments to your work schedule are required.
While the following positives may not apply to every workplace, they do give you food for thought. Some of the advantages for your employer include:-
- Retaining your skills and experience – often invaluable
- Presenting the face of a flexible and considerate employer
- Maintaining a successful team can be worth its weight in gold
- The ability to match working schedules with an employees’ most productive time of the day can lead to significant productivity improvements
- Those beginning a family, or taking on outside responsibilities, can often bring something different, but beneficial, to their employment role in the longer term
- Support for disabled workers is a legal obligation and shows a caring employer
- Retaining an employees’ deep seated understanding of the business can be priceless
- Increasing the diversity of a workforce will often reflect well with customers
- It is important to retain a mix of talents and experience throughout a workforce
- Flexible working can often extend the traditional working day, leading to increased business
- A happy content employee is likely to be less stressed and more productive
- Requests such as working from home/remotely can reduce office and travel expenses
- A request for reduced working hours can sometimes help to avoid statutory redundancies
As employees and employers, very often we can suffer from tunnel vision and not always see the benefits to other parties. So, putting yourself in the position of your employer could give you a significantly improved understanding of the consequences of your flexible working request.
It is safe to assume that if you are working at the moment, then you are important to your employer. As a consequence, when presenting a flexible working request it might prove very useful to highlight the potential financial consequences of losing you. In this situation, there is no point being shy and standoffish, push yourself, showcase your skills and ensure that your employer appreciates what you have to offer.
However, there is a balance between arrogance and a “matter-of-fact” approach to highlighting your value. Prior to your meeting, think of the following issues:-
If you are unable to find some kind of middle ground with your employer, then you may need to leave your position. In order to avoid this, highlight the cost of holiday pay, bonuses as well as time and money spent on exit interviews, references, payroll changes and other administrative tasks required. Each issue in isolation may seem irrelevant, but the combined impact might just make your employer sit up and listen.
Depending upon your role, experience and importance to the business, it may take some time to find a permanent replacement. Using agency staff as temporary replacements is expensive and they may not always have the required experience/skills. Your employer may be lucky, and find your perfect replacement immediately, but this isn’t normally the case.
There are numerous recruitment expenses that your employer may encounter such as the cost of using a recruitment agency, advertising, interviewing, checking references and overall time spent considering applicants – with no guarantee any will fit the bill. There is a significant mix of time and money involved in the recruiting process, and it is a lot higher than you might think. Also, with the best will in the world, there is no guarantee that the chosen candidate on paper will be the best candidate in practice.
No matter how experienced your replacement, there will likely be a degree of training required and induction costs. Many of the training obligations are statutory, such as health and safety in the workplace, and there may be other costs such as relocation expenses. These will all need to be taken into consideration.
With the best will in the world, it is unlikely that your employer would find a replacement you could be parachuted into your position as if you had never left. While not always the case, there is the potential for a reduction in short-term sales while your replacement attempts to “find their feet”. There may also be a knock-on effect to other colleagues, perhaps dependent on bonuses and other similar types of remuneration.
In reality, the vast majority of us underestimate our value in the workplace and so do many employers. It is only when changes are requested, or the possibility of leaving is discussed, that our eyes are opened. So, make sure that your employer appreciates your value – although it is important not to come across as arrogant during discussions.
It is impossible to list every potential objection your employer may present when considering your flexible working request. However, there are a number of more common issues which arise time and time again during these discussions:-
- Your employer is looking to make structural changes which may not fit in with your flexible working request
- It is not currently financially viable to take on the additional cost of splitting your role and bringing in other parties
- The requested changes would have a significant negative impact on business and profitability
- There would be a detrimental impact on the quality of customer care currently provided
- Finding someone to fill your role will be difficult if not impossible
- Where your request might involve adjustments to the working hours of your colleagues, this may not be possible
- Your requested hours of work are not compatible with the company’s customers or markets (such as a stockbroker working outside of market hours)
While some of the potential objections from your employer, listed above, may seem petty or unwarranted, your employer is also legally obliged to take into account the rest of the workforce. One slight tweak in your working hours could have a knock-on effect on other colleagues, causing disruption and even resentment.
This is a situation where the support of your colleagues could make a huge difference to your request. If you were able to highlight some valuable positives which outweighed any potential negatives, this would also help when arguing your case. In all honesty, you will likely need to be flexible when discussing your initial request. On that basis, it is advisable to aim for the best case scenario but prepare yourself for something of a compromise.
When it comes to requesting a change in your working hours, or working practices, it is important to present your case to your employer in as much detail as possible. Research all of the potential pros and cons, as this will show your employer you have considered your request in great detail. You will also have a significantly improved chance of success if you can gather the support of your colleagues and even immediate management.
Many employees will be surprised how open employers are to potential change, especially in the current environment. Working from home, flexible hours and even job sharing are more commonplace today than they ever have been. If you can demonstrate that your proposed changes would instantly increase productivity, this would go a long way to persuading your employer to approve your request!