It seems like women’s rights have never been so prominent in the workplace but one thing that is now definitely open to all employees and not just women or parents is the right to request flexible working. We asked Belinda Lester, owner and director of Lionshead Law for her guidance on what makes a successful flexible working request:
The most common mistake people tend to make when making flexible-working requests is to focus on their own needs without having given any real consideration to the needs of their employer. It is a natural thing to do as the person making the request is doing so because of his or her own specific needs and it is unsurprising that those needs are to the fore when the person is formulating the request. However, this is frequently a recipe for failure. Many employers tend to view flexible working requests negatively and from the perspective of how they can be turned down rather than how they can be accommodated. Even those employers who actively support flexibility in the workplace still want to know that the employee has given his or her full consideration to the impact of their request on the needs of the business. So, my first piece of advice is to think first about any negative impact the request may have on your employer and work out how you would seek to address it. Be specific and be prepared to be flexible yourself. You may have it in mind that you want to work three days a week and that those days will be Tuesday to Thursday so that you always have a long weekend. However, the negative impact on the business may be far less if you work Monday, Wednesday and Friday or even Monday Tuesday and Thursday. If you believe that to be the case, then by all means request the days you want but be prepared to compromise.
Another common mistake is the tendency for requests to focus solely on one form of flexible working – namely part-time working – without giving any real thought to the many other ways in which work can be performed “flexibly”. I would therefore advise sitting down and thinking carefully about what it is you are trying to achieve and then decide whether you could achieve the same, (or almost the same), result with a different and possibly less disruptive form of flexible working.
When I first went back to work at my previous firm following the birth of my first child I knew that I wanted to spend more time at home with her. I also knew that if I asked to work part-time I would end up being paid for part-time working but would inevitably be doing just as much work as before as the work would still be there even if I wasn’t. I therefore managed to negotiate working in the office 10am – 4pm Monday to Thursday and from home in the evenings (if necessary) and all day on Friday. I achieved this because my employer knew that I would never leave work undone or clients unattended and that even if I wasn’t necessary working every evening Monday to Thursday or even all day on any given Friday, I would ensure the work was always performed on time and to the satisfaction of the client. What this meant was that I was able to structure my day more easily around my child without any loss of income and without any negative impact on my employer or my clients. Clearly, I was able to do this because my employer knew me. This would not necessarily have worked had I only recently joined the firm.
For employees who have only recently joined a company it can be more difficult to negotiate flexible working as they are more of an unknown quantity. However, if you are clear about not only your objectives but also the objectives of the business and the requirements of the job, then there is no reason why you should be unable to make a successful application.
The following are the key points I would advise all employees to consider when making flexible working applications:
- Think carefully before making the application about exactly what you are trying to achieve and then think of as many ways as possible that you could achieve those aims. If you could only achieve them by working part-time that is fine, but if remote working or compressed hours would work just as well then consider making your application with several options for your employer to consider.
- Then think about the likely impact your request will have on the business and crucially address those in as much detail as possible. Don’t ever say “I don’t think this request will have any impact on the business” as that is highly unlikely.
- Find out whether other people in your team are already working flexibly. If so this may mitigate against you as there may be less room for flexibility the more people there are working that way. Alternatively, it may mitigate in your favour. Either way, think about it and address any concerns you think your employer may have.
- Be positive about your job. Stress how much you enjoy it and how much you value the company. Talk about all the things you want to achieve and how you propose achieving them notwithstanding your desire to work flexibly. Think of your flexible working application as you would think of a job application and you won’t go far wrong.
Best of luck!