Flexible Working

Flexible working is on the rise, giving employees flexibility on where, when and the hours they work. This section offers advice to employees on how to find flexible work, how to request flexibility from current employers, tips on avoiding pitfalls and all the news and updates on flexible working legislation.

In this flexible working guide


Considering flexible working?

Flexible working sounds great. There’s not many situations in which more flexibility is a bad thing.

But it’s a term that covers lots of different things and before committing to go flexible it’s worth considering what’s best for you.

Then there’s the issue of how you make it happen. Too many employers get the heebie-jeebies at the thought of flexible working. There’s still a perception that flexible working means less working when in fact there’s evidence that the opposite is true.

Flexible workers tend to work harder and more effectively. Crucially, if employer and employee can find the flexible set up that works for both they are likely to stick together – meaning more loyalty, higher staff retention rates and fewer of the costs that accompany replacing staff.

So given it’s good for business and more and more employees expect some flexibility it’s worth getting across the issue.

What is flexible working?

It’s perhaps easier to explain what it’s not. Working 9-5 in a fixed workplace is not flexible working. Just about everything else is.

But there are a few major styles of flexible working among the most popular with employers and employees.

What’s best depends on the individual employee and the company concerned. Just as ‘one size fits all’ no longer applies to the modern workforce, one size of flexible working isn’t appropriate either.

Maybe you’ve limited office space so it makes sense to have people working from home. Maybe a dad wants to reduce his hours and someone else is ready to step up a rung making a job share an ideal solution. Maybe you don’t have enough work for a full time employee (yet) so it makes sense to bring in someone part time.

Types of flexible working

Flexible Working can cover working different times/ hours or working from a different location. For Example:

  1. Part Time Hours – This can be any number of hours, but will always be less than the full time hours for that organisation. It can either be a few hours every day, or full time hours but for only a few days.
  2. Flexi-time – Flexitime usually works by setting core hours, i.e. times when the employee has to be in the office, but around that they can alter their start and finish time according to need.
  3. Compressed Working Hours – This means an employee still works their full time hours, but they will cover them in less days, and therefore have one or more days off during the week. Lunch hour could be reduced and the working day extended to hit the right number of hours. Often this works well alongside homeworking as taking the commute out of the day saves hours for doing something more productive. Breaks need to be taken during these long hour days, to ensure health and wellbeing of the employee.
  4. Job Sharing – This is a situation in which two employees do one job. How they split it depends on what’s best for everyone. Often it makes sense for both to do three days with one day overlapping. But modern technology can make for a smooth transition if they want to do a 50/50 split or one wants more days than the other.
  5. Staggered hours – A little change to some people’s hours can mean work is always covered but at the start and end of the day the workplace isn’t fully staffed. Fits well around nursery drop off or pick up so good for parents of young children. This arrangement essentially involves setting up a rota and careful monitoring.
  6. Term time working – A lot like annualised hours but without the annual hours target. The employees get school holidays off – it’s up to the employer how they make that fit with annual leave allowance – removing one of the big stresses from parents lives and allowing them to be more focussed and productive the rest of the time.
  7. Working from Home – Modern technology has fuelled the boom in this one. With a decent internet connection, a smart phone and whizzy instant messenger apps like Slack it’s possible to work from home without missing a thing. Working from home all the time doesn’t suit everyone though, a trial period is probably a good idea. And it’s worth baking in occasional face to face time for that human connection too.
  8. Annual Hours – This is a big picture approach to flexible working. The employee has a set number of hours to work across the whole year. It’s up to them when they do them. In theory an employee could clock up their hours by the August and take the rest of the year off. More likely this would work for parents of school age children who can do extra hours in term time giving them more freedom in the school holidays. Works particularly well when paired with core hours or times of year if the business is particularly seasonal.

Read our comprehensive guide to flexible working

Advantages and disadvantages of flexible working

So, there’s lots of options when it comes to flexible working. But whatever the pattern there are similar advantages, and some disadvantages.

The drawbacks are that it can be difficult to keep a clear dividing line between work and home life. And certainly a little more thought is necessary when it comes to contact between employee and employer.

But the benefits are big.

Employees who work flexibly tend to be more loyal and more productive and less likely to go off sick. Bosses get a better worker and are less likely to have to go through the disruptive and expensive process of having to replace them.

Plus they get a walking, talking advert for their company culture. Just ask anyone who works flexibly how they feel about their employer and you’ll likely get a diatribe of positivity!

How to apply for flexible working?

It’s important to remember that no-one has a right to flexible working, but they do have a right to apply for it. (And any employer who sacks someone for asking is breaking the law).

Anyone who works full time or part time can make a request, providing they’ve clocked up 26 weeks of continual service first.

Generally you’re more likely to get your request accepted if you prepare. Think through how it’s going to affect the business and your colleagues as well as how it’ll benefit yourself. Bosses love it if they don’t have to spend too much time thinking through all the consequences alone.

The process of applying for flexible working

Once an employee submits a request for flexible working a meeting should be arranged (unless both sides agree to proceed in writing). Best practice, as drawn up by ACAS, says the employee can bring a colleague to the meeting too. The employer is then compelled to give the request serious consideration and come to a decision within three months.

They can only turn down the request for a limited number of reasons. These are:

  • A detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand.
  • The burden of additional costs.
  • An inability to reorganise work amongst other employees.
  • Difficulties in recruiting additional employees.
  • Detrimental effect on quality of work and the employee’s performance.
  • Planned structural changes to the business which would not work with the proposals.
  • A deficiency of work at the time that the employee proposes different hours of work.

It’s fine for employer and employee to agree to test out any new arrangements for a trial period if they’re not sure how it’s going to work in practice. It’s best to put a time limit on the trial period then both sides can evaluate how successfully it’s going, with the option to revert to the original work pattern if it’s not working out.

If there’s an element of home working in the request it’s important the employer updates its insurance and also carries out a health and safety inspection at the person’s home.

If the employer turns down the request then the employee is entitled to appeal. They can go through the firm’s regular grievance procedure and/or they can turn to ACAS for help in resolving the dispute. Ultimately they can go to tribunal.

It’s vital that employers give serious thought to flexible working requests and treat all employees equally in order to avoid any unpleasantness that could lead to a tribunal.


Key to making any flexible working arrangement succeed is trust. If employers don’t trust their employees then something is wrong in the first place. They’ve a recruitment problem not a flexible working problem.

But where both sides trust each other to do the right thing and bend a bit to make things work flexible working can bring big benefits.

It’s the future

More and more evidence shows that workers, particularly parents, want to be able to work flexibly. It can make life so much easier when it comes to nursery pick up time, or attending a school play or just being able to talk to teenagers face to face rather than on the phone while commuting home.

But it has huge benefits for employers too. Not only can they attract the best talent they can hold on to those people too. And workers who feel their bosses are reasonable, understanding and looking out for their welfare are more productive. They are also likely to talk up their firm and that’s advertising money can’t buy.

Further reading on flexible working

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The workforce in the UK is changing. By 2020 1 in 3 workers will be over 50, and by 2030 half of all adults in the UK will be over 50.

Understanding the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population is vital if we want to create productive, innovative and inclusive multi-generational teams as we all lead longer working lives.

workingwise.co.uk is a job and community site specially focused on older workers looking for flexibility and improved work-life balance, and the employers who recognise what they have to offer.

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