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How to manage employee expectations for flexible working

It’s hard to ignore the many talks and articles on flexible working. It’s a popular subject and there are many ways to work flexibly. So, what’s right for your organisation?

You may have heard about The Right to Request Flexible Working but what does that mean in practice?

The Flexible Working Regulations Act was introduced in 2014 and comes with responsibilities for both employee and employer.

There are specific criteria regarding the reasons the request can be made:

  • firstly the employee must have worked for their employer for a minimum of 26 weeks (note the term “employee” in the contractual sense) and
  • secondly, has not made any other flexible working requests in the past 12 months. Although, some employers offer an enhanced policy so that all employees have the right to request even if they don’t qualify legally;
  • thirdly, the employee must make their application in writing and include specific information (ACAS has a good checklist).

As for employers, their responsibilities are to meet with the employee to discuss the request and to inform the employee of the decision within 3 months of the request being made. A best practice employer would most certainly confirm the decision in writing.

The employee has the right to appeal if their request is turned down. There are of course cases when there is a valid business reason for not being able to accommodate the request and the law stipulates what those reasons are here.

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. 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. Of course, a policy only goes so far; a clear process also needs to be created and management should be informed and trained on how to put both the policy and process in to practice. Typically, a policy would be found in the employee handbook and the process would be created specifically for your business and offer step by step guidance. The practice is making it happen. With a clear policy and a robust process, how the manager handles the request can have a significant impact on how the employee receives the decision. Responding to the request needs to be managed carefully to ensure full consideration has been given.

How a manager receives, responds and reacts to a Flexible Working Request will help the employee understand how the outcome has been decided and go a long way to mitigate any disappointment and loss of employee engagement if the result isn’t what they were expecting. Ideally the final arrangement will be beneficial to both the employee and the employer.

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.

Claire Carson