How to manage employee expectations of flexible working - and how to ask for flex yourself

You know flexibility helps advance women's equality in the workplace. But how do you manage when existing staff ask for a new flexible arrangement? And how can you formally request a flexible working arrangement if you’re already in post? Claire Carson, HR Consultant at Cognitive Law met us this week to explain all.

Q. Why is it important to be prepared to answer requests for flexible working?

A. Responding to a request for flexible working needs to be managed carefully. We recommend having a clear flexible working hours policy and a robust process to manage expectations. This can have a positive impact on the employee’s experience, from deciding whether to make a request to receiving the final decision. By helping employees to understand how the outcome has been decided, you’ll mitigate any disappointment and ensure engagement levels don’t drop if the answer is not what the employee wants to hear. Ideally of course, the final arrangement will be beneficial to both the employee and employer.  Try to accommodate some aspect of the employee’s request if you can, even if it’s not exactly what they asked for.

Q. What is The Right to Request Flexible Working and what does it mean in practice?

A. The Flexible Working Regulations Act was introduced in 2014 and comes with responsibilities for both employee and employer. Although this provides a statutory right for employees with a minimum of 26 weeks’ service, lots of employers expand their flexible working policy to all of their people.

Q.  How should you make a successful flexible working request?

A. The criteria are: the employee must have worked for their employer for a minimum of 26 weeks prior to making the request; the employee must not have made any other flexible working requests in the past 12 months; and the employee must be legally classed as an employee.

The request must be made in writing and include specific information to be considered a ‘statutory flexible working request’, such as:

  • The date of the application

  • The change requested

  • The proposed date for the change

  • How the changes requested will impact on the business and how to deal with them

  • Details of any previous flexible working requests

  • Whether any aspect of the requested change is related to the equality Act 2010


Q. What do employers have to do in response to a request for flexible working?

A. The employer must set up a meeting to discuss the request with the employee and confirm the decision within three months. Ideally, they will reply in writing. 

Q. Can employees appeal if they are turned down?

A. Yes, they do have the right to appeal.  This should be in writing and as detailed as possible to explain the reasons for appeal.

Q. How should businesses communicate their flexible working policy?

A. In terms of managing employee expectations, communication is central to making everyone aware of their rights and responsibilities. It’s essential to have a clear and easily accessible policy, set out in the employee handbook and created specifically for your business with step-by-step guidance. Written well, this will set out the information for employees to decide whether they would like to make a request and if they are eligible to do so. 

A clear process also needs to be created and management should be trained in how to put both the policy and process into practice.   For companies that want to promote flexible working, they could have case studies and success stories of how other people in the organisation work flexibly.

How do you manage flexible working requests in your workplace? For advice on policies, processes and practices, contact Claire Carson, HR Consultant at Cognitive Law on 01273 284191.

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