The pandemic has put flexible working on the map for many, making the previously unimaginable a realistic possibility across a range of roles and industries. As we all find our feet in this new world of work, many of us want to continue with a degree of flexibility, whether it’s to better manage our childcare responsibilities or to support our own mental health.
At Working Families, we have long recognised the benefits of flexible working to both employee and employer. It enhances wellbeing, which goes hand in hand with a boost in performance and productivity. We believe that—with the right policies, practice and culture—everyone can thrive in flexible and family-friendly workplaces.
The good news is that the non-profit sector is a pioneer of flexible working, with many charities offering general flexibility long before ‘pandemic’ became an everyday word. But if you need a solution that’s more tailored to your individual needs then you will likely still need to make a flexible working request.
‘Flexible working’ can often be seen as shorthand for homeworking but it comes in many different shapes and sizes, the beauty of which is there is always a type of flexible working that will fit your role. Hybrid working, reduced or compressed hours, changing start and finish times, flexitime, job share—the list goes on. If we start thinking of roles as comprising different tasks, there is often an element of flexibility in when and how we can complete those tasks. There’s no one way to work flexibly; instead, it’s best achieved with a solution that is tailored both to your needs, and the needs of your employer.
All employees have a right to request flexible working once you’ve been in a role for 26 weeks. Although you can ask before 26 weeks, your employer isn’t legally obliged to consider it. Remember that your employer can only turn a request down on specific business reasons, so put yourself in the strongest position by making a good case to put forward. This involves some preparation:
When you come to submit a formal written request, make sure it meets the legal requirements—you can read these here or even use our template letter. Once you’ve made a request, your employer has three months to respond. They may want to meet with you to discuss, either on the phone or face-to-face, and for this you can be accompanied by a colleague. Approach the meeting with a solutions mindset and be prepared to negotiate. Focus on what you’d like to get out of the meeting and what would be the next best alternative. Aim high, but be ready to compromise.
An employer can only refuse a request on the grounds that it hasn’t been made in the correct time frames (before 26 weeks, or more than once in a year), or for the permitted business reasons. If your employer has declined the request but breached these conditions, you may want to take further action, including an appeal, raising a grievance or a tribunal.
With the pandemic helping to set a precedent on flexible working, there’s huge potential for more parents and carers in need of greater flexibility to benefit from shifting attitudes. The increasing positivity towards flexible working means there’s never been a better time to ask your employer to consider flexibility. With the knowledge on how flexibility in your role can work and a focus on solutions, you can help your employer see that flexible working reaps rewards for not only their individual staff members, but for the organisation as a whole.
Jane van Zyl is Chief Executive of Working Families, the UK’s work-life balance charity. She has 14 years’ experience working in the third sector and has held senior leadership positions at a number of UK charities, including Samaritans and Sands. She believes in the value of a fulfilling, balanced working life and its transformative power to create social connections, build self-esteem, and impact the wider community.