There's more to flexible working than part-time hours. Working flexibly can relate to not only hours but also location or work tasks.
Businesses that promote flexible working are able to recruit from a wider talent pool, and can benefit from reduced costs and improved productivity. Here you can learn more about different types of flexible working, find out what would suit your business, and what to do when one of your people wants to work flexibly.Start the test
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Business benefits of flexible working
Improved staff recruitment and retention
Offering flexible working will widen the pool of talent that you’re recruiting from. Meeting the needs of your people by enabling them to work flexibly can improve staff retention, particularly for women returning from maternity leave who need to balance family and caring responsibilities with work.
Reduced recruitment and training costs
Improved staff retention reduces your recruitment costs, as well as training costs for new staff. Lower staff turnover means that clients can be reassured by the continuity of dealing with the same people.
Reduced stress levels, sickness and absenteeism
Staff who are able to work flexibly are less likely to experience work-related stress and are less likely to have to take time off because of their caring responsibilities. Flexibility in working hours can also result in reduced travel or childcare costs for staff, further contributing to improved job satisfaction.
Improved time keeping
Research suggests that when people are able to work flexibly and can fit their work around the school run and rush hour traffic, for instance, their ability to arrive on time improves.
Better alignment with product demand
A diverse workforce is more representative of the community it serves. This promotes a culture of creativity and innovation, as a diverse workforce is better placed to understand the needs of a wider range of customers.
Enhanced loyalty and commitment
An employer’s commitment to try and meet staff needs will often be rewarded by greater loyalty from staff.
A reputation as a good employer
Businesses that meet the needs of both the organisation and staff can enjoy a reputation as a good employer. Employers who don’t consider flexible working are not only missing out on the benefits, but they also risk losing valued people.
Types of flexible working
Part-time working is the most common type of flexible working, and an increasing number of people now work from home. There are lots of different ways to work work flexibly:
Staff work less than the normal or standard full-time hours. The majority of part-time workers are women.
Two people share the work normally done by one member of staff.
Specified mandatory core hours must be worked but staff have some flexibility on starting or finishing times.
Contracted hours are worked over fewer days, for example, a four day week or nine day fortnight.
Staff members’ annual hours are calculated and split into set shifts and unallocated shifts. This type of working suits businesses which are dependent on seasonal working, for example, gardeners.
Working patterns where staff have different starting, finishing and break times.
Staff work fewer hours or take time off during school holidays.
Working from home
Can be on a regular or ad-hoc basis. Appropriate technology such as access to email and the internet supports communication with the business and clients.
Toil (time off in lieu)
Staff are able to take time off in lieu of overtime, for additional hours worked.
Common where staff are required across a 24-hour cycle.
Managing flexible working requests
All managers involved in deciding whether jobs can be done on a flexible basis should be given equality training. Any changes to the law on flexible working should be communicated to all managers to ensure that your policies and decision-making processes remain compliant with the legislation.
It’s best practice to monitor requests for flexible working, in particular whether it’s female or male employees making requests, and whether or not the requests are granted. This will help you to identify any patterns, both in relation to the types of requests that are made, and also around decision-making processes.
Acas has produced a Code of Practice on handling requests to work flexibly in a reasonable manner.
Deciding whether specific jobs are suitable for flexible working
No jobs should be automatically ruled out for flexible working and any flexible working policy should make this clear. Many businesses have successfully had senior posts operating on a job-share or part-time basis, and it is helpful to assume that all jobs can be done on a flexible basis unless there are very clear business reasons why this should not be so.
To ensure unfair or unlawful decisions are avoided, it is important that appropriate training is given to all managers involved in deciding whether jobs can be done on a flexible basis, and any concerns they may have about this should be discussed before the flexible working policy is finalised.
It can be helpful, when considering whether a particular job is suitable for flexible working, to use a structured job suitability questionnaire.
Flexible working: What the law says
The Flexible Working Regulations were amended in 2014, extending the right to request flexible working to cover all employees, rather than only those with children under the age of 17 (or 18 for disabled children).
Every employee now has the right to request flexible working after a 26 week period of employment service. The request can cover hours of work, times of work, and place of work, and may include requests for different patterns of work. Any change granted under the right to request flexible working is usually permanent, but temporary changes may be negotiated. An employee can only make a statutory request once in any 12 month period.
A request from an employee must include the following information:
- The date of their application, the change to working conditions they are seeking and when they would like the change to come into effect.
- What effect, if any, they think the requested change would have on you as the employer and how, in their opinion, any such effect might be dealt with.
- A statement that this is a statutory request, and if and when they have made a previous application for flexible working.
You should make clear to your employees what information they need to include in a written request to work flexibly.
Dealing with a request for flexible working
Once you have received a written request for flexible working, you must consider it. You should arrange a meeting with your employee as soon as possible after receiving their request. If you intend to approve the request then a meeting is not needed. The employee can be accompanied at meetings by a work colleague, and has the right to appeal any decision.
Employers should discuss with the employee the type of flexible working preferred by them, and which arrangements are most workable.
Employers must seriously consider an application, but are not obliged to agree if sound business reasons can be proven, in line with the current legislation. These are:
• the burden of additional costs
- • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
- an inability to recruit additional staff
- a detrimental impact on quality
- a detrimental impact on performance
- a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
- insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
- a planned structural change to your business
If you do refuse, the refusal should include the relevant and accurate facts, and employees should be given the right to appeal.
All requests, including any appeals, must be considered and decided on within three months of first receipt, unless you agree to extend this period with the employee.
If you arrange a meeting to discuss the application including any appeal and the employee fails to attend both this and a rearranged meeting without a good reason, you can consider the request withdrawn. If you do so, you must inform the employee.
Acas have produced a guide to dealing with requests for flexible working.
Case study: Making flexible working work
Susan has worked full-time at Briggs the Bakers for the last 10 years. Briggs’ manufacturing process is in operation 24 hours a day. They operate a three shift system, each lasting eight hours. Full-time staff work a 40 hour week, worked over five days out of seven.
Around a quarter of the workforce are mothers of young and school-aged children. There has been a long standing, informal arrangement in place that these staff are put on the rota to work the 7am-3pm shift, Monday to Friday, as this allows them to fit work around their childcare commitments. The remaining staff work more unsocial hours, including late shifts, nights and weekends. Most staff are generally accepting of this arrangement, and are paid an additional premium for these shifts.
Susan’s mum, Agnes, was diagnosed with dementia a year ago, and her condition is deteriorating. Increasingly worried about her mum’s wellbeing, Susan decided that Agnes should move in with her and her husband, John. The couple’s individual shift patterns mean that there would always be someone at home with Agnes.
John works at an engineering company which has recently undergone restructuring, and as a result, his hours have been changed. His hours of work would now coincide with Susan’s at the weekend, and Agnes would often be left alone for hours at a time.
Susan makes a flexible working request for a change to her hours. Susan has asked that she be able to work her 40 hours between Monday and Friday, as she is needed to look after her mum at weekends while her husband works.
After consideration, the floor manager decides to refuse Susan’s request on the grounds that ‘the business is not able to reorganise work among existing staff’. While the majority of staff are happy to work unsocial hours, she already struggles at times to get staff to work the weekend shifts, particularly during holidays and in the summer.
After further discussion, Susan and the manager reach a compromise. Although she needs to be at home during the day at weekends, she will be able to work nightshift, once John returns from work. This means she will still be available for weekend working, but her shifts at weekend will be confined to nights. They both agree that this will be a permanent arrangement.
Flexible working can be part of a formalised arrangement, as in the case with Susan. It can also be informal, as is the case with the mothers of young children who have, over time, been allowed to work only weekdays to accommodate childcare arrangements.