The good old Flexible Working Request – enough to strike fear into some boss’ hearts, although why this is the case is a bit of a mystery. We look at some of the myths behind flexible working requests and why they really are something to be embraced!

Myth 1: Employees who ask for flexible working arrangements just want to skive off at home
That really isn’t the case. Whatever the reason is behind the request for flexible working hours and/or locations, your employee wants to be able to work more effectively, not less. By asking for flexibility in their hours and place of work, they are showing that they have identified issues with the set hours/place of work and want to work around it to ensure the job is still being done. If you can’t or won’t honour it, it’s most likely they’ll leave for another company who will, and you’ll be a valuable staff member down.

Myth 2: If I don’t honour a flexible working request, I will be taken to an employment tribunal
It’s not as clear-cut as that. Whilst the Flexible Working Regulations that came into force in June 2014 were made law partly to protect employees and ensure requests were dealt with in a reasonable manner, it doesn’t automatically mean that a refusal will be a case for a tribunal.

The law states that all flexible working requests must be dealt with in a “reasonable manner”, which means that employers must assess both the advantages and disadvantages of the request and, if the request is not something that can be agreed outright, hold a meeting with the employee in question to discuss the request and try to come to an agreed solution. An appeals process must be in place if the decision is still a “no” at the end of this process (and you need to give this decision in writing). The employer must also have reasonable grounds for refusing the request and be able to give a good explanation of all points of the refusal, grounds of which can include some (not all) of the below:

  • The hours/location requested will mean the company struggles to meet customer demand
  • The quality of the work will suffer
  • Additional costs will be a result of the flexible working request, especially if these costs will be significant
  • The company will not be able to recruit additional staff
  • Existing staff will not be able to cope with the additional work or the work cannot be reorganised between them

In short, you do not have to honour all flexible working requests if they are genuinely going to adversely impact the business, but you will need to have strong grounds to back the decision up and you should try to compromise with the employee before making a final decision.

Myth 3: If I have a staff member with a flexible working arrangement in place, everyone else will want one too!
Human nature being what it is, it’s always easy to think the grass is greener on the other side, but it’s highly likely your staff have a better understanding of why their colleague needs flexible working hours more than you do and will empathise accordingly. Flexible working arrangements are requested for many reasons; childcare, personal health and transport limitations are just a few of the most common. Your staff will naturally talk about their lives outside of work with each other and it’s unlikely that just because one person leaves early for the school run that the others will want to follow suit, especially if working fewer hours would impact their pay.

Myth 4: Staff who don’t work in the office full time will not be as productive as those who do
You’ll never be able to fully track how productive your staff are whether they are in or out of the office unless you have tracking systems in place that analyse hours and performance and flag any long idle periods or obvious deficiencies in workload. Staff who work in the office are just as likely to be “swinging the lead” as those who don’t, and maybe more so when you think that staff who have been granted flexible working requests are more likely to appreciative of the allowance to work to their own schedule (and, as we said above, they are also the ones who are most likely to want to work productively by asking for the request in the first place).

If you are concerned, then there are basic systems you can put in place to ensure work is being done when you think it should be, including internet monitoring, time tracking and asking for regular catch ups, either face to face or by a medium such as Skype where you can video call.

Myth 5: A flexible working arrangement is permanent; once it’s agreed, then there’s no going back or changing it
Employees who ask for flexible working arrangements need to make the request in writing for it to be an official flexible working request. Within that, they should give an idea of timeframe including when they would like the changes to commence, which will then be one point to consider when deciding whether to grant the request. They may clearly state the request is on a temporary basis and the reason, or that they would like their hours to permanently change to what is in their request.

Once the decision has been made and the request granted to all parties satisfaction, technically the hours/location set out, need to be honoured by both parties; however, if changes need to then be made moving forward, this needs to be discussed and the request adapted to suit both employee and employer. An employee can only make one official flexible working request in a 12 month period, so if a change before that time period needs to happen, it needs to be by agreement of both parties.

Some flexible working facts….

  • In case you need a little more information, here are some interesting flexible working facts, taken from several recent studies.
  • 34% of Scots actively seeking employment need flexible hours to fit around their personal arrangements, such as childcare. However, only 1 in 8 skilled jobs paying over £20k per annum are advertised as offering flexible working hours (source: Timewise)
  • A recent study conducted by research company Leesman showed that only 57% of employees worldwide believe their workplace encourages productivity, with lack of flexible working arrangements being one of the biggest barriers to daily work.
  • The same report showed that only 18% of the staff interviewed working from a flexible, non-allocated setting, with 49% working at an allocated workstation.
    That said, according to research carried out by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in 2016, the number of people working from home in the UK had risen by a fifth over the last decade. This is in part due to major increases in technology allowing employees to access work files in much more productive ways than in 2006, but also because of the increase in flexible working requests. The report goes to say that “Government research shows that another 4 million UK workers would like to work from home for at least some of their working week but are not given the chance.” and “there are many benefits to home-working, provided it is properly managed.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Modern home-working is good for the economy, as it helps businesses hold on to talented staff and boosts productivity. And it allows those with caring responsibilities or a disability greater access to the jobs market.

“While home-working may not work in all professions, I would urge employers to look at the value it can bring to their business and their workforce.!

Whilst many employers do still fear the flexible working request, it’s obvious that the world is moving much more towards flexible arrangements that allow for more workers to juggle their home and work life balance effectively, and it’s important that employers keep up. SMEs and small businesses especially have much to gain from working with their staff to keep morale and productivity levels high, and to fear a flexible working request will go much towards doing the opposite.

Are you looking for a flexible role, with an employer who understands how important it is to have a happy home/work life balance? Call us today on 0800 085 5574 or visit our Careers page to find out more!