How to handle a flexible working request

Employers ought to be bracing themselves for a slew of flexible working requests from working dads following the lockdown experience. We’ve advice on how to get ahead of the game.

The words flexible working written on a post it note next to a keyboard and a pen


Our series on how coronavirus and the lockdown has affected working dads and the lessons for the future has thrown up a number of key themes.

One in particular is that men are not going to return to the 9 to 5.

Many dads who were previously wary of working from home have embraced it. Dumping the daily commute seems to be a particular boon. Being around their family at breakfast and after school has not just suited many dads but made for a more harmonious family life. Though it’s worth pointing out many working dads have struggled with the switch from work to home life without a car or train journey in between the two states.

So it looks like more dads will be requesting flexible working in the future. That’s going to present a challenge to line managers and HR departments. We know that previously men were more likely to have a flexible working application turned down than a woman would be. That points to an implicit bias and expectation that mums will change their working arrangements but dads won’t. That’s going to have to change.

So if you’re an employer, line manager or HR professional bracing for a barrage of flexible working requests from dads what are the issues to consider?

Get ahead of the game

Create a policy now if you haven’t already got one in place. This will make it easier for employees and their line managers. It takes a lot of the stress out of the situation for both. And it will help to ensure a consistent approach across your firm.

Acas and the CIPD are good places to look for examples of model policies.

Advertise it on your website in order to normalise the process. And set up an application form and a list of issues to consider – including the impact on the business and colleagues – so that everyone has given it some thought before they start.

Are they eligible?

The statutory right to request flexible working only applies to employees who have at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment at the date of the request. However it’s well worth considering widening that to all employees. Coronavirus is going to be with us for some time, allowing employees to settle into flexible arrangements may leave them, and your company, better placed to cope with any further waves of the pandemic.

Don’t discriminate

The law is such that it’s still fairly easy for an employer to turn down a flexible working request. You have to give a valid reason but those reasons are fairly elastic in their definition. However if you are going to turn down an application be aware of any potential pitfalls. If an employee feels their application was not dealt with fairly ultimately they can escalate it all the way to a tribunal.

Be positive

Many employees stepped up and flexed to ensure that the transition to lockdown was as easy as such a huge change could be. Be prepared to offer the same goodwill in return or risk losing talent.

The lockdown experience should’ve given you a good idea of what worked and what didn’t when it came to home working and flexible hours. Try to have an open and honest discussion about what went well and how any downsides will be mitigated.

Try it

With any flexible working arrangement it is key to build in a trial period. That allows you to show that all reasonable steps were taken to try and make things work. It also builds trust as both sides give a little and agree to look again at the set up after a period of time and make tweaks as necessary.

The trial period has to be long enough to let things bed in. 12 weeks seems sensible but anywhere from 8 weeks to six months would work depending on the situation.

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