How to negotiate flexible working

All employees can request flexible working, but it does not mean they will necessarily be successful.

Workers in office

Flexible working could help to reduce the rising employee absence trend

Flexible working requests can be turned down on a variety of grounds:

  1. The additional costs will impose a burden.
  2. Agreeing to the request will have a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand.
  3. Inability to re-organise work among existing staff.
  4. Inability to recruit additional staff.
  5. Agreeing to the request will have a detrimental impact on quality or performance.
  6. There is insufficient work during the periods the employee proposes to work.
  7. There are planned structural changes.

In extending the legislation it has been slightly diluted so employers only have to show they have considered a request in “a reasonable manner”, with timeframes are looser before – the whole process should take three months – and there is no statutory right of appeal, although this is recommended.

There is also an onus on employees making a request to consider what impact they think the requested change would have on the employer and how, in their opinion, any such effect might be dealt with.

So how should you approach the process to ensure you maximise your chances of success and what are the pros and cons of going down the formal or informal route for flexible working?

The informal route

Many workers negotiate ad hoc, informal flexible working agreements with their employers, for instance, to work a day from home on occasion or for a period of time.

This can work very well for both parties as it allows for maximum flexibility if, for instance, circumstances change.

However, a formal agreement can offer security and it protects your new terms and conditions since to alter the flexible agreement requires formal consultation and obtaining your agreement.

The formal route

There is a formal process to enter into when applying for flexible working. When you make a request it is important to have thought through clearly how you want to work, how this would impact on your team and how you can overcome any potential problems.

If you can consider any potential advantages, past retention of your skills, that your new work pattern can bring to your employer, for instance, a job share could give your employer the benefit of two people’s combined skills or coming in later and leaving later might mean your employer will have greater cover over the working day.

Are there aspects of your job – such as research, reading, data input – that could be done better at home with no other distractions around?

If it will have an impact on your colleagues, it is worth talking to them and showing that you have tried to find a solution. It is also worth talking to other people in your company and elsewhere who have negotiated flexible working and ask them about their experiences and tips.

When you talk to your manager, be calm and business-like in your negotiations.

Don’t lose your calm if they turn you down flat [this could be proof that they are not abiding by the legislation as they should at least consider your case properly and give you reasonable grounds for turning you down].

Similarly, if they do not reply to your request, this goes against the legislation.

If you have not covered this as part of the potential impact in your application, try to pre-empt any concerns your employer may have and suggest ways that you would address them, for instance, you could have a compromise suggestion ready or propose that you work the new pattern for a trial period, subject to review.


If you suspect your manager has not followed procedures properly or has not treated your case reasonably, make an appeal as soon as possible.

Although you have no legal right to do so, Acas’ code of practice encourages employers to do so.

If this appeal is not successful, you could lodge a claim with an employment tribunal on the grounds of sex discrimination, particularly if the decision forces you to leave your job, but if your employer has acted reasonably and your request just isn’t possible, you may have to accept their decision.

Some jobs are more difficult to do flexibly and just because someone else is working the hours you want does not mean your employer has to grant them for you.

Each request is dealt with on a case by case basis so if someone else doesn’t work Fridays and you want to not work a Friday your employer may argue that agreeing to the request will have a detrimental effect on their ability to meet customer demand and, depending on the circumstances, that might be a valid reason for turning down the request.

You can still return to your original post.

Comments [4]

  • Sara says:

    Hello, i already send a application for flexible work. It’s possible to change it? I want to change the days of work.

    • Mandy Garner says:

      Hi Sara,
      Our HR expert Anna Ives says: There isn’t anything wrong with changing the hours before the request has been considered. It could even work in your favour if it’s a better option for the company than they originally suggested. Also if the request has been heard but there is still an appeal option open there are still options such as raising a grievance.

  • Gemma says:

    I work 27 hours a week and every other sat the rota has been put up and Iv got 3 sats and can’t find childcare for my 7 year old son Iv been told I have to do it Iv try to swap days but no one will help where do I stand please help

  • tob says:

    Both myself and several friends in different industries (legal/media/insurance) have had bad experiences with flexible work applications after returning from maternity leave; in my case resulting in requiring legal advice. Whilst at the time this was heart-breaking/ traumatic I wanted to provide some positive advice to anyone else in this situation – don’t give up. If your organisation is not accommodating, find another. There are plenty of decent, family friendly organisations out there – you don’t need to give up your career. If your boss is rejecting your application then this is not the job for you. Good luck.

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