Many of us are looking for a better work/life balance and having a flexible working arrangement can make that so much easier.

For employees, it means having the autonomy to work in a way that fits in with life outside of the office.

This in turn helps with things like reducing stress levels, and improving mental health and general wellbeing.

For employers, there’s increased productivity from their workforce as well as better staff retention.

And yet, many companies don’t offer that as standard – it’s something you have to request.

Fortunately for employees, a new flexible working bill should make that request so much easier. But how do you go about it the right way?

What is flexible working anyway?

Most people think of flexible working as just changing the hours they work but it can be so much more than that.

You could for example change the number of days you work, request to work part-time or ask your employer to consider a job share.

It’s also possible to ask to compress your hours into term time only, leaving you free to look after the kids during the school holidays.

Things like hybrid and remote working will fall under this remit, too.

In essence, any changes that relate to when and where you work could fall under a flexible working request.

Note that any changes you request are intended to be permanent. Temporary changes to your working arrangement are considered differently.

UK’s new flexible working legislation

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 was passed into law on 20 July 2023.

However, it doesn’t actually come into effect until 6 April 2024, which means up until then, it’s up to the employers whether they follow it.

Under the new legislation, employees have the right to make a flexible working request on the day they start their job instead of having to wait for at least 26 weeks.

They can make two requests in any 12-month period and no longer have to explain what impact it will have on the employer. 

Employers, meanwhile, must respond to any requests within two months instead of the previous three.

And before they turn down any requests, they must consult their employee.

Before you make a flexible working request…

“Before you make your request for a flexible working arrangement, think about your objectives and priorities,” says Mandy Watson, managing director at Ambitions Personnel.

“Consider your best-case scenario but also be prepared to look at alternatives.”

In other words, come prepared. 

You should consider not only what changes you want to make but how it might work in practice.

You may also want to think about how it could affect career progression and whether that will change the details of your request.

And of course, there’s the money side of things.

If you ask for fewer hours for example, how will this affect your pay and other benefits?

How to make a request for flexible working arrangement

“When making a request, always check what the process looks like within your organisation so you can be clear on what will happen at which stage and whether your line manager, another senior manager or HR will handle it,” says Watson.

Your starting point will therefore depend on whether there are any existing processes in place for flexible working requests.

If not, there are one of two ways you can go about it.

You can arrange an informal meeting with your line manager to discuss it first and then follow up with an email with the formal request.

Or alternatively go straight in with a formal application, which can be a bit impersonal but might suit a more corporate environment.

In your application, you should set out what flexible working request you’re making, including how it might work in practice, and a proposed start date.

If you’ve made a previous application, you should also mention this.

As your employer has a couple of months to consider your request, it would make sense to submit your application as far in advance as you can.

Your employer can say no

While the legislation is meant to make it easier for workers to request a flexible working arrangement, employers can of course still say no.

However, they must give a legal reason as to why.

This could include any:

  • Negative impacts on your job performance or that of your colleagues
  • Extra costs to the business
  • Effects on the quality and/or standards of the goods or services the company provides
  • Issues finding cover for you or rearranging work around you

Your employer could also reject your request if there isn’t any work for you to do in the hours you want to do them, or there are upcoming changes to the business that mean your request wouldn’t be feasible.

Improving your chances of getting a “yes”

“If your boss is unsure about your request, propose a trial period to test the flexible arrangement’s feasibility,” says Sophie Bryan, founder of Ordinarily Different.

“This will allow your employer to evaluate its impact before committing fully and give you some time to become familiar with your new work arrangement as well.”

The impact of flexible working on team dynamics and business operations are the main concerns for employers according to Bryan, so you should be prepared to address these.

She added: “In your meeting, I suggest preparing a clear and detailed plan outlining how you will maintain productivity, meet deadlines, and communicate effectively while working flexibly.”

What if you get a no?

“Familiarise yourself with the grounds on which an employer can legally decline your request,” says Watson. “These are the only valid reasons under which a business can say no.”

If you do get a no based on those legal grounds (mentioned above), you could appeal or ask your employer to reconsider.

This is when it’s helpful to keep the dialogue open so you’re both open to compromise.

If your request wasn’t rejected on one of the legal grounds, you could also take your employers to a tribunal.