When flexible working is turned down…

Century 21


Survey results showing how decisions not to grant flexible working are leading to many women leaving their jobs have brought an influx of case studies from working mums.

Workingmums.co.uk’s annual survey found that 23% of women had had flexible working requests turned down by their employer; 19% had left as a result and 35% had the request turned down for a reason other than that allowed under flexible working legislation. Some 57% of those whose flexible working request had been refused while they were on maternity leave felt they might not return to work.

When we posted the results on Facebook we received numerous replies from women who had experienced problems. For many the problem was their line manager’s attitude. This is considered by many the major obstacle to flexible working.

Christina said her manager told her he hated part time workers and working mums on his team in front of a woman from HR. When she went higher up the career ladder she says they both denied it all.

Katherine is one of many women who left her job due to the rejection of a flexible working request. “Their reasons were flawed and I could prove it. I won my appeal but on a three-month trial basis which would have been too stressful as I didn’t trust them not to just say it wasn’t working (for no valid reason) once the trial was over. Still a little bitter as I was loyal and loved that job. I would have been a valuable employee and would have returned to full-time hours once my daughter went to school. Their loss!”

Weak legislation

Others pointed to how weak the flexible working legislation is if managers are opposed to different ways of working. Katherine said: “The problem I found is it’s too easy for employers to simply state that they’ve considered the request, but sadly the “business need” doesn’t support it. They’re only legally required to consider it.”

Lorna said: “My line manager told me it didn’t suit him. When I said that wasn’t a valid reason he shrugged and pointed to another reason and quoted that instead whilst really not caring. Dreadful behaviour in this day and age.”

Jess said she was turned down twice and told the business couldn’t support flexible working, though two other people were part time. She left.

Rachel was told a job share or part time was not possible “as it’s more than a full time role”. She was offered various demotions to go part time.

Lorrae was told by her manager that ‘he didn’t have part time people in his office so either full time or don’t come back at all’.

Louise was told after maternity leave that she was only wanted if she returned full time.

Annette said: “I was told point blank I could not have part time hours or job share… so I was left with no alternative but to step down from a management position and take a pay cut… I no longer work there.”

Sally says she was not turned down, but her employer refused to sign it into a permanent change whilst they desperately sought a reason to deny it. She says: “When that didn’t work they started snooping through my emails looking for poorly handled cases in an effort to sack me. I was the only part time worker and the only one with flexi hours in the office and they didn’t want to have to offer it to anyone else. In the end I felt so hounded I left.”


Many were angry that employers were failing not only to keep staff, but also to see the benefits of flexible working.

Tracey commented: “Companies are stupid… if they took on two part timer staff… they have cover for sickness and holidays. Why would they not want that? And they get two good workers who work harder because they are grateful…”

It’s not just part time working either. Gina was told her role didn’t suit different start and finish times. She left.

Julia got the flexi times she needed, but only after a struggle. “I got it eventually, but not until I had been told to either move house or buy a moped. I was asking to leave 15 minutes early twice a week and make up the lost 30 minutes another day.”

Emma said: “I asked for an extra hour a day meaning I would work 8-5 instead of 8-4 and continue with Wednesdays off as we couldn’t get childcare, and I was told ‘nobody else works nine-hour days in my office so I don’t need to, why can’t I work those extra four hours a week on a Wednesday.”

The impact of such attitudes and an unwillingness to find a solution – or at least negotiate – is not just that people leave. The stress caused can result in mental health problems.

Jo was turned down on ” business needs”, although she says that was not backed up with any evidence. “I’m still fighting it over a year later. On long term sick with stress and anxiety because of it.”

Although the survey is aimed at mums, there is clearly a knock-on effect on dads. The negative experience of women  – not just rejection of flexible working, but also lack of career progression in flexible jobs – is making it difficult for dads to request flexible working. This is coupled with pre-existing assumptions made by many managers and colleagues that men don’t work flexibly. Yet until more men feel they can request flexible working, until it is recognised that work has to take into account the fact that people have families, the system is not going to change for women.

Workingmums.co.uk also works with many employers who do get the benefits for employers and employees alike of offering flexible working and who provide management training, tools and case studies which support it. Our Best Practice Report gives in-depth examples and shows how it is all about embedding a flexible culture and that this flexibility is highly advantageous for employers facing a turbulent future.

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