One of my employees is asking about flexible working. How should I respond?
Some business owners simply dread hearing those three words: flexible working request 🙀
But with oodles of people wanting to work more flexibly than they’re able to today, flexible working requests aren’t going to disappear anytime soon.
Okay, so your first thoughts might be grumpy ones (I know from my own experience). But, try to change your mindset on this! ✋🏼 It could be a fabulous opportunity for your business and save you money and get more output. Loads of organisations report huge retention, productivity, employee engagement, and mental wellbeing gains – as a result of allowing staff to work flexibly.
Whatever your reaction, you’ve gotta take flexible working requests seriously by reasonably weighing up the pros and cons. Warning! You could be taken to an employment tribunal if you don’t handle the situation properly.
IT AINT JUST PART-TIME
‘Flexible working’ and ‘part-time working’ are often used interchangeably. But, flexible working comes in many different guises. It’s worth checking out all the options to see what could work for your business.
The CIPD says that flexible working is when you give people flexibility over where, when, and the hours people work.
So, that could mean:
- Part-time working
- Term-time working
- Compressed hours
- Annual hours
- Working from home, or mobile working/teleworking
- Career breaks and sabbaticals
- Commissioned outcomes (where hours don’t apply, just outcomes)
- Zero-hours contracts
HANDLING THINGS PROPERLY
You’ve gotta be reasonable and quick when dealing with flexible working requests. The law says the process should be wrapped up in three months – from request to decision.
If your employee has been working for you for longer than 26 weeks, they can ask for flexible working every 12 months if they want to. If they haven’t been working for you for that long – they can still make a request – but there’s no formal process for you to follow.
Acas recommend that you ask your employee put their request to you in writing, and date it. It should explain what they’re asking you for; why they’re making the request; when they’d like the change to begin; and how they believe your business could cope as a result.
Your job is to carefully consider it. Have a chat with your employee. It might help you to better understand what’s being asked and how it might work in practice. Don’t make any decisions there and then. Instead, explain that you’ll need time to ponder on what’s been said, and that you’ll jot down your decision to them in writing, as soon as possible.
Whatever your response, keep a written log of everything that happens, just for your own records.
A quick heads-up! GOV.UK and Acas set much of this guidance – but do reach out if you wanna chew the fat on your specific circumstances. My email is email@example.com.
THE CASE FOR SAYING YES!
Oh my! There’s a plethora of research out there to prove that flexible working brings truckloads of benefits to employers.
You may want to think about these when you’re making your decision. Saying yes could help you to:
- Keep your employees loyal, for longer
- Cut down on sick days 🤒
- Turbocharge productivity 🏎
- Attract talent 🌟
- Improve your employee’s wellbeing 🌞
BUT YOU CAN SAY NO
It’s okay to say no once you’ve carefully considered a flexible working request. In fact, according to the TUC, one in three requests for flexible working are turned down. It's not always possibly, as it depends on the type of role and responsibilities. But be aware that your employee can appeal your decision so you always need to consider it before you say no.
GOV.UK recognises these as valid reasons for saying ‘nah’ 👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼
- extra costs that will damage the business
- the work cannot be reorganised among other staff
- people cannot be recruited to do the work
- flexible working will affect quality and performance
- the business will not be able to meet customer demand
- there’s a lack of work to do during the proposed working times
- the business is planning changes to the workforce
So, if you’re thinking of refusing your employee’s flexible working request – make sure you can defend your decision using the list above.
CAST YOUR OWN FEARS ASIDE
It’s totally normal to have concerns about agreeing to a flexible working request. But are your worries really warranted?
Here's what I often here 👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼
If I let one person, everyone will want to work flexibly
Flexible working requests should always be looked at on a case-by-case basis. One person’s circumstances, role, responsibilities, and performance – is often massively different to somebody else’s. However, you need to be sure you don't show favouritism to some employees or discrimination to others i.e. you have to be consistent and be able to justify your decisions
I’m worried my customers will suffer if I allow flexible working
There’s little, if any, evidence to suggest that productivity takes a nosedive when people adopt flexible working patterns. In fact, most research proves the opposite. And when your employees are more engaged and motivated, they’re more likely to go to the moon and back for your customers. But depending on the size of your business, if it would mean reducing open/close hours etc. and you don't want that, you can say no.
I’m worried they will slack if they work from home
I'll be honest, if your employee is disengaged, they will slack whether they work from home or not. You will need to monitor outputs and behaviours and if they perform worse then tackle this as normal.
What if I agree and then it doesn't work out. I'm stuck with it!
I always recommend putting a trial period in place before you agree to any flexible working request. This would usually be for six months. And if it doesn't work out, they go back the original working arrangements.
So, if all this is keeping you up at night, why not agree to try things out and see how it goes?
TO SUM THINGS UP THEN
☹️ You might not be wildly enthusiastic about receiving a flexible working request from your employee. But, as with all people matters, it’s gotta be handled properly.
⏰ Flexible working isn’t just about making someone part-time. Get familiar with all the options to help you both to come to the right decision.
📑 I’m afraid there’s a proper process you must follow if your employee has over 26 weeks’ service with you.
🤔 Before making your decision, think about all the research that shows how businesses have benefitted from introducing flexible working.
🚫 You don’t have to say yes. However, if you say no, it needs to be for a proper reason in line with the law. And if you do say yes, make sure you build in a trial period where YOU get to decide whether the trial has been successful or not.
🙀 Could your own fears be stopping you from introducing flexible working to your business? If so, try it out for a while and see how it goes.
If you need more help, get in touch.