Traditional workplace hours of 9 to 5 are no longer the norm.

According to a YouGov survey, only 6% of employees are working the traditional hours of 9 to 5, and only a small percentage of those entering new employment would opt for those working hours.

The results suggest that, almost half of those surveyed already worked flexibly with arrangements such as job sharing, reduced hours, compressed hours or amended hours in place. 70% expressed a desire to work flexibly in the future.

The study found most full-time workers would like to start work at 8am and finish by 4pm, hours chosen by 37% of those surveyed. The second most popular choice was 7am to 3pm, chosen by 21% of those surveyed.

Flexible working

Every employee has the right to formally request flexible working – ┬áprovided that they have 26 weeks’ continuous service. There is also no set procedure in dealing with a request. The law simply states that an application for flexible working, made by an eligible employee, must be dealt with in a reasonable manner, and within a period of three months (which includes any appeal).

You can read more about how to make a flexible working request here.

The uptake of flexible working

Despite being easy to apply for, a third of those surveyed believed that their current employer would not allow them to change how they worked. If refusing an application for flexible working, employers must have a sound business reason for doing so. Their reason must fall into one or more of the eight statutory reasons:

  • The burden of additional costs.
  • Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand.
  • Inability to reorganise work among existing staff.
  • Inability to recruit additional staff.
  • Detrimental impact on quality.
  • Detrimental impact on performance.
  • Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work. and/or
  • Planned structural changes.

Grounds for refusal such as ‘it will open the floodgates to more requests’ will simply not be accepted.

How should you approach a flexible working request?

  • Dealing with requests in a reasonable manner (the ACAS Code of Practice provides useful guidance on what that looks like).
  • Encourage the employee to consider the impact their request will have on their colleagues. Tensions can often arise where others feel they have to pick up the slack.
  • Ensuring that any reasons for refusing the request, if applicable, fall within at least one of the specified reasons.
  • Keeping an open mind and challenge any policy that particular roles can only ever be done on a full-time basis.
  • If there are genuine business reasons why flexible working is not feasible, make sure these are properly evidenced and documented and not just based on the personal preference of managers.
  • Note that an argument that ‘we already have too many people who work part-time/from home etc.’ is not one of the permitted grounds for refusing a request.
  • Consider whether a trial period could be offered to settle any concerns about the requested working pattern.
  • Even if you can’t offer the exact changes requested, think creatively and see if you can suggest a compromise.
  • Remember that the right to request is available to all employees, not just working mothers or those with caring responsibilities. Research suggests that childless employees, whether male or female, feel that options for flexible working are biased towards those with children, making their own desires for a work-life balance a distant dream.
  • Bear in mind the risk of indirect sex discrimination, and other possible claims of discrimination, at all stages of the process. Properly consider all employee commitments outside of work where appropriate, including religious commitments, or an employee’s own medical position or of someone they care for.