Your guide to requesting flexible working

Photo: Martin Dimitrox / Getty. 

If you’ve decided working from home works for you or perhaps you need more flexible working arrangements to accommodate childcare needs, you’re going to need to square it with the boss first.

Since 2014, anyone who has been with their employer for 26 weeks or more has the right to request flexible working – including changes to which days of work, the hours that make up your working day and where you work – and have that request receive serious consideration. But that doesn’t automatically mean the answer will be yes. Here are a few suggestions to increase your chances of getting the green light to work flexibly.

Break it gently

Springing a strident demand on your employer is unlikely to help your cause, and pressuring them unduly is as likely to scupper your chances of a positive response as anything else. Sound your boss out and soften them up with an informal chat first of all. Under the law, you only get one shot at making a request every 12 months, so it is important to put your best case forward. In an ideal world, by the time you make the request formally, it should be more or less a done-deal.

Explain what’s in it for them

You may have the right to have your request taken seriously, but your employer also has the right to say no for legitimate business reasons. If flexible working is going to work, it has to work for both sides. That’s why it’s important to look at your request from your manager’s perspective and have a pitch ready to explain how what’s good for you is good for them. For example, you could describe how you work better away from the distractions of the office; how a change of arrangements will reduce stress, which is a good indicator of greater productivity, not less; how home working will reduce their office overheads; and so on. These are just general points, but the more specific you can make your arguments and the more you can back them up with evidence in relation to your own performance the better.

Listen to and meet their concerns

An informal chat will also give your employer the chance to air their concerns, and you may find it presents them with certain problems you hadn’t thought about – for example, they may be worried that it sets a precedent that couldn’t be extended to other colleagues; or that it could affect the ability of those you work with to do their job.

See this feedback as an opportunity to think about any acceptable compromises you could make. For instance, you could show willing to negotiate which and how many days you work from home; or agree to a trial period to see how the arrangement works in practice.  

Apply early

If you convince your employer that letting you work flexibly will benefit and not harm the business, they may still need time to make necessary adjustments to minimise the wider impact of the change on colleagues, schedules, etc. Put your request in three months ahead of the start date for your new working arrangements. The law says that your employer must consider and decide upon your request, including any appeal, within three months of receipt.

Take no for an answer

As Mick Jagger once said, you can’t always get what you want (though he probably didn’t have flexible working in mind!) If your manager has perfectly good reasons for turning down your request, you may just have to suck it up.

Don’t take no for an answer

However, if your employer flat refuses to grant your request without justification, there are several courses of action available to you. You can find out more about workplace mediation, the employment tribunal and Acas arbitration here.  

Talk to your union

If you're in a union, talk to your rep about your options as they can help you make your case. Not a member? Use workSMART’s Union Finder to browse unions in your industry or sector.


Related links

If you are considering making a request for flexible working, you might also be interested in:

WorkSMART’s detailed Flexible Working advice and information section. 

AcasHandling requests to work flexibly in a reasonable manner guide (PDF, 163KB). 

Blog: Is remote working right for you? 

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