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Flexible working

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Use this page to understand your responsibilities around flexible working and learn how to build a flexible working culture.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working is a way of working to suit an individual’s preferred:

  • working pattern – for example, part time, flexi time or staggered hours
  • workload – for example, job share, reduced hours or zero-hour contracts
  • workplace – for example, working in the office, working from home, or a mix of both.

It can also help people fit work around important life events – for example, a career break (sabbatical), or shared parental leave.

Why it matters

Flexible working acknowledges that everyone works differently. For example, some people might find working from home isolating, while others might find it helps them focus or juggle other responsibilities, like childcare.

Because of this, flexible working can promote:

  • inclusion
  • wellbeing
  • access to talent
  • a focus on productivity and impact over the number of hours worked.

Handling flexible working requests

The right to request flexible working

All employees have the legal (statutory) right to request flexible working if they have:

  • worked for you for 26 weeks or more and
  • not made another flexible working request in the last 12 months.

The ‘right to request’ is the not the same as the right to flexible working, but employers must consider all requests.

Steps you should take

Once you’ve received a request in writing, you should:

  • consider it fairly
  • discuss it with your employee in a meeting – they can be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative
  • consider other options if the request is not possible
  • make a decision based on facts and not personal opinion
  • only turn down the request if there’s a valid business reason
  • give your employee a decision within three months of receiving the request.

Other things to consider

You can only turn down a flexible working request if there’s a valid business reason for doing so. It’s important to consider each flexible working request on its own merit and in the order you receive it. However, if you’ve agreed to a flexible working request from one employee, you’re not obliged to agree to a similar request from another.

If you’re not sure whether the requested flexible working will work in practice, one option is to agree to it for a temporary period.

Remember: if you approve your employee’s request, this will usually change the terms of their employment contract. If this happens, you should send your employee a letter setting out the changes to their contract.

More guidance on handling requests

Developing policies and procedures

It can be helpful to write down your organisation’s approach to flexible working (your policy) and how you handle requests (the procedure you’ll follow).

NCVO members can download our editable sample flexible working policy and procedure.

Many employees have been temporarily working from home during the covid-19 pandemic. If you’re considering making these arrangements more formal, a separate policy might help you do this.

Acas has guidance on developing policies for home and hybrid working.

Supporting health, safety and wellbeing

Employers' responsibilities

Employers are responsible for their employees' physical and mental health, safety, and wellbeing:

  • in the workplace
  • when employees work remotely/at home.

This means that regardless of where your employees work, you should:

  • carry out a 'suitable and sufficient' risk assessment of their working environment
  • pay close attention to your staff’s mental and physical health
  • check your insurance covers employees working from home.

The Health and Safety Executive has more guidance on an employer’s responsibilities when managing health and safety risks.

Employees' responsibilities

Employees also have a responsibility for taking reasonable care of their own health and safety at work. It’s important for managers and the people they manage to communicate regularly and work together to find solutions to any difficulties.

Supporting staff

Changes in working environment – including working from home – can be stressful. For help supporting staff wellbeing, read our guidance on managing stress.

When working flexibly, healthy boundaries are important to ensure staff don’t overwork. Both organisations and individuals need to understand that it’s ok to say ‘no’, to set boundaries, and to suggest different approaches to how flexibility can work.

Organisations providing services will need to balance the needs of both the people providing and receiving the service.

Employers should lead by example, and encourage staff to:

  • have clear start and finish times
  • switch off their work equipment at the end of the day
  • take regular rest breaks away from a screen
  • take sick leave when they're ill – rather than working from home.

Read our guidance on mental health and wellbeing.

Acas has more guidance on health, safety and wellbeing when working from home.

Building a flexible working culture

Building a productive flexible working culture takes time and is not always easy. Here are five things to bear in mind:

Build trusting relationships

Policies and procedures that incorporate flexible working will only go so far. Flexible working requires everyone to be proactive in building relationships and open to connect with each other in different ways.

Accept that building these relationships will take time and that with some individuals it will take longer than others. In your conversations with staff, encourage a focus on outcomes and impact rather than hours worked.

Model the behaviours you want to see

Leaders can send a strong message when they:

  • choose a work pattern that promotes their own work-life balance
  • communicate their working pattern to others
  • set clear boundaries.

It shows everyone in the organisation that this is how business is done. And it gives others the confidence to make a request and do the same.

Have open and honest conversations

To build a productive flexible working culture, you’ll need to have conversations about wellbeing regularly. Wellbeing considerations may be very different depending on role, circumstance, and life stage.

The nature of ‘presenteeism’ has also changed. There’s now ‘digital presenteeism’ where employees feel the pressure to always be available online.

Read Shine Offline's blog on minimising digital presenteeism when working flexibly.

Empower your managers to support their teams

Give managers the tools, skills, and confidence to understand what flexible working means for those they manage. Managers should be able to listen to the experiences and needs of those they manage and understand different working preferences.

They must also understand and be able to translate any flexible working policy and procedures into practice.

Find ways to stay connected

Think about how you can be inclusive and connected online and in person. If you’re only coming together as a whole organisation once or twice a year, talk to staff about how you can make this meaningful for all involved.

Further information

Last reviewed: 01 August 2022

Help us improve this content

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 01 August 2022

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