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How can I best approach my employer about flexible working?

I’ve returned to work after having had a baby but I’m struggling with the office hours and childcare. How can I best approach my employer about flexible working?

Juggling work and childcare is difficult at the best of times. But if you’ve just returned to work after a baby, it can be particularly tricky. Fitting back into your old role (let alone your work clothes) when you’re also coping with sleepless nights is stressful. And that’s when things are going smoothly. When your baby gets sick, your childcare breaks down or your boss demands that you put in extra hours, it can easily feel out of control. Maybe it’s time to consider working more flexibly?

While it’s not going to solve everything (flexible working has been blamed for people feeling they miss professional opportunities), it can be crucial in helping parents achieve a better work life balance. And this could be the perfect time to request it. Right now, businesses are being urged to assess and improve their flexible working practices as a way of helping end gender discrimination in the workplace. According to a new joint report from Timewise and consultants Deloitte, employers who refuse to accept non-traditional working practices are one of the biggest barriers to gender equality at work. The report said that managers need to be open to people working flexible hours and ask “why not” rather than “why” when employees request it. So, how do you go about requesting flexible working?

Check the policy

First, look at your employer’s flexible working policy (if it has one), as this will set out how requests should be made. You should be able to find this in your company handbook or request it from HR. Once you know what the policy is, think about what arrangement will work best for you – would it be working from home sometimes, or working earlier/later hours? It’s possible to make informal arrangements with your manager – for example, coming in earlier and leaving earlier one day a week – but agreed changes to your contract will be permanent so you need to be pretty sure it’s going to be right for you.

Set it out in writing

A formal request under the statutory scheme must be in writing. It must be dated and set out in a particular format, which includes certain information. It’s important to get this right – legally employees can only make one formal flexible working request every 12 months. For guidelines on how to do this, see the Acas Code of Practice [pdf].

Make the case

Remember that it’s not just about you: the way you work impacts on your colleagues, your boss, and potentially your clients and customers. When your employer is making a decision, he or she will take everything into account so think about how your request is likely to impact on your employer’s business. If you do this, you can suggest workable solutions to lessen any negative impact.

It’s also a good idea to be clear about why you want to work flexibly. Are you looking for term time hours, to fit with childcare, for example? Have your circumstances changed (because you have had a baby) and working the same hours is no longer do-able?

Give it time

Once you’ve made the request, your employer has to consider it and decide if it’s workable (if there would be an extra cost burden, for example, or it would need to recruit someone to cover your varied hours). Many employers will arrange a meeting with you to discuss your request (this is good practice) and the law requires the process to be completed within three months of the request being received, which includes any appeals. Your employer will be considering issues such as additional costs, or whether some of your work has to be redistributed.

Flexibility is key

It’s helpful if you can stay open-minded about the response from your employer. It may be that you want to work Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays but your employer says there’s a business case for you to work Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. OK, so it’s not exactly what you wanted but at least in the short term, it may be a compromise worth taking.



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