The extension of flexible working: making it work for you

What does the extension of flexible working mean in practice? WorkingMums looks at what your options are.

mother and child, flexible working, work life balance


The extension of flexible working legislation to parents of children under 16 excites all sorts of passions. For parents of older children it opens up the possibility of being able to balance work and life a bit better, but many employers still see it as an extra burden placed on them in already challenging economic times.

In fact, there are misconceptions on both sides of the argument surrounding flexible working. Since 2003 employees with children younger than six or disabled children and carers of adult partners or relatives living at their address have been able to request the right to work flexibly.

From 6th April, this right to request will be extended to parents of children under 16. However, requesting flexible working does not automatically guarantee parents that the flexibility they desire will be granted. It is only a right to request. Employers can turn down requests for a variety of reasons.

The right to request should be viewed as part of a negotiation process and employees need to spell out the advantages for both them and their workplace of working flexibly.

At present, employees need to have worked for their company for six months before they ask to work flexibly. Flexible working can embrace a whole gamut of different ways of working, from homeworking and part-time working to job shares, annualised hours [where you may work longer days at some points of the year and shorter ones at others] and term-time only working.

Clare Dean works part time as a Human Resources Manager for a Sales and Marketing consultancy based in Ascot. Her hours are 9.30am to 3pm 4 days per week which allows her to see her two small children.

She switched from a full time job around half a year ago after seeing her current job advertised on WorkingMums website.

“I realised that as much as we needed for me to work full time financially, I actually wasn’t able to devote to anyone ie my children, my husband, my job and myself – enough time and energy resulting in all areas of our lives being affected and me having to leave my job after 7 years (in post) to be able to readdress the balance and satisfy us all,” she says.

Jenny Keen also got her job as a home-based estate agent through WorkingMums. She works 16 hours a week around her three year old, who attends preschool. She had taken three years out of the workplace after giving birth.

Kam Kaur is a local government worker and single parent of two primary aged children. She works compressed hours. This means she works longer hours for four days a week, allowing her to have Fridays off to pick up her children from school. She says the flexibility this gives her is invaluable.

Formal request

The best way to go about asking for flexible working is to put a formal request in writing to an employer. This should spell out how the change will impact on the employer’s business and ways of overcoming any detrimental effects.

It should also specify a desired start time which gives the employer sufficient time to consider and implement the proposal. It is important to remember that any change that is made will be a permanent one unless a trial period is specified.

Once the employer receives the request letter, they have 28 days to set up a meeting to discuss it. Following the meeting they must respond within 14 days to the request in writing. If they turn down the request, they should give their reasons for doing so.

The only valid reasons for doing so are:

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

Employees have the right to appeal against the decision. Managers should make sure that they do not turn down a request just because it is not the norm.

The spirit of the legislation requires that they think outside the box. As the process is one of negotiation, for instance, some compromise solution might be possible, for instance, a jobshare or a few days a week working from home. Managers should also consider how they will supervise flexible working – this is often something that those with little experience of flexible working find intimidating.

For instance, if they agree to an employee working from home, they may be worried that they cannot see what they are doing at all times.

But, as one proponent of flexible working says, even if they can see them, they do not necessarily know what they are doing in the office. In fact, research shows homeworkers are often more productive than their office-based counterparts.

Management issues

Managers may, however, need to think of different strategies for monitoring flexible workers, for instance, setting objective targets which they have to achieve.

There may also be health and safety and technological considerations to take into account, for instance, ensuring that emails can be picked up from home.

Other considerations include looking at the impact on teamwork. Involving the whole team in the decision-making process may be key here as well as looking at ways to ensure part time and other flexible workers do not feel sidelined if they are not in the office five days a week.

One way around any resentment which may occur because parents are given flexible working is to open up the right to request flexible working to all employees.

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