For many employees, the ability to have a healthy work-life balance ranks high on the list of things they want from a job. Flexible working hours are one way that many businesses can provide this.
Increased productivity, not having to commute, and the chance to work whilst travelling are just a few of the many advantages of having a flexible work schedule.
In this article, we discuss what flexible working hours are, explain the different types available and give tips on how to manage your flexible working schedule effectively.
What exactly is flexible working?
Flexible working hours, also commonly referred to as ‘flexitime’ or ‘flexi hours’, are an increasingly popular way of working for many employees.
Flexible working refers to a type of work schedule wherein employees have more freedom over the hours they work, whether this is due to personal preference or other commitments. This may include working outside the standard working hours of 9 am to 5 pm or on less days than normal. The types of flexible working available to employees may vary from workplace to workplace and is dependent on the job role.
Are there different types of flexible working?
Yes, there are. There are several different types of flexible working available to employees. Many businesses offer some form of flexible working, and the type of flexible schedule available varies depending on the industry and needs of the company. The most popular types of flexible working are:
Work from home
One of the most popular types of flexible working is the ability to work from home. Usually offered on either a mixed basis (splitting time between the home and office) or on a permanent basis (100% remote working),
Working from home is more suitable to employees who carry out desktop-related work, such as lawyers, marketers, call centre workers, and financial advisors. Jobs that require manual labour or client-facing roles are not usually carried out from home.
Another type of flexible working is a compressed hours schedule. This allows employees to work only four days a week instead of the standard five. The four days spent working are often longer to allow employees to work full-time hours, which most commonly falls somewhere between 35 and 40 hours a week. Having a longer weekend can be advantageous when dealing with personal matters or for helping staff have a better work/life balance.
A flexitime schedule is one wherein the employee gets to choose their start and finish times throughout the week. The employee does not have completely free rein over this and in most cases, employers will need to designate an agreed time frame within which an employee can choose to work. There are often core hours that they expect an employee to work, which are usually in the middle of the working day, such as 10 am to 3 pm.
If you have a staggered work schedule you have different start and finish times to other employees. There could be many reasons for this. The most common reason for an employee opting to take staggered work hours is if they have other non-negotiable commitments, such as taking children to school or having a second part-time job.
Types of workplaces that may look to implement staggered working hours are power stations or emergency services, which operates all hours of the day and need total cover.
Employees that work on a part-time basis are often classified as having flexible working hours. A part-time schedule is one where an employee works fewer hours than a full-time employee. Most commonly, the number of hours worked by a part-time employee is fewer than 35, with 35 viewed as the lowest threshold for full-time hours.
An annualised hours schedule is more common in some industries than in others. One of the industries to most frequently implement an annualised hour schedule is the hospitality industry, wherein businesses encounter ‘seasons’ of busy work in line with public holidays.
Annualised hour schedules require an employee to work a certain number of hours over the year, with the exact days and shifts varying based on business needs.
The last type of flexible working an employee might encounter is job sharing. Job share roles are where two employees split the hours and responsibilities of a single position between them, resulting in two part-time schedules. This is most beneficial for employees who have other commitments or wish to share their work duties with another to better manage their workload.
How do I set up a flexible work schedule at my workplace?
Managing a flexible work schedule is easier than many businesses and employees realize. If you’re an employer or employee considering making the change to a flexible work schedule, it’s important to know how to do so to ensure success.
Below is a list of steps you might consider if you want to arrange a flexible schedule at work:
Arrange a meeting with the employees
Whether you’re an employee looking to transition to a more flexible schedule or a manager seeking to implement flexi hours across a team, the first thing to do is arrange a meeting with all of the affected parties.
During this meeting, openly talk about your request and the reasons for doing so, and the way in which this impacts the company for the better.
Don’t rush to integrate the new schedule
Once both the manager and employee agree to a new flexible working schedule, they can begin to integrate it to replace the current schedule. It’s important that this transition is steady and slow to fully understand how the change impacts the company.
As an employee, slowly switching to this new flexible schedule also affords you the time to adapt to the new way of work.
Review and revise (if necessary) continually
As the integration of these new flexible hours takes place, it’s essential for managers and employees to perform a continual review of how things are going.
During reviews, each person can note what is working successfully and what is not. From there, you can revise the new schedule to address problem areas and improve shift patterns.
As an employee, remember to be honest with your manager about the success of the new schedule. This honesty will allow you to reach a shift pattern that works well and is appropriate for everybody’s needs.
Implement the new schedule fully
Once any issues have been addressed and resolved, the business can begin to implement the schedule on a more permanent basis.
If you’re a manager, listen to employees about any concerns or queries they have. If you’re an employee it’s important that you communicate your feelings to your manager.
Notify all the impacted parties
Following the successful implementation of the new flexible working schedule, the last step is to notify all of the parties impacted by the change. This could include colleagues, clients, managers and members of the company board.
What business sectors most commonly have flexible hours?
If you’re an employee looking for a job that is more likely to offer flexible hours, then there are many industries available to you. The following industries commonly offer the option to work flexibly.
- Hospitality: Many hospitality businesses, such as hotels and cafes, offer flexible hours to meet the needs of the business, depending on the time of year.
- Financing and banking: Much of the finance industry, such as banking, trading on the stock market, and fulfilling contractual agreements, can occur remotely.
- Information and technology services: Especially in consulting roles, those in the information and technology sector can enjoy either a full or combined flexible working schedule.
- Telecommunications: For those working in telemarketing or a similar telecommunication role, it’s easy to implement a work-from-home routine that allows for flexible hours.
- Legal services and the law: For those in the legal sector that work primarily on an administrative basis, flexible schedules are often a viable option that allows them to work some days in the office and others at home.
As an employee, what reasons can I make a flexible working request for?
You might be able to make a ‘flexible working request’ to your employer if you want to:
- Reduce hours to work part-time
- Change start and finish times of shifts
- Have flexibility with start and finish times (sometimes known as ‘flexitime’)
- Work hours over fewer days (‘compressed hours’)
- Work from home or elsewhere (‘remote working’), all or part of the time
- Share the job with someone else
As an employee, what changes to working patterns can I ask for with flexible working?
Employees can ask for changes to be made to:
- All working days within your shift pattern
- Specific days or shifts only within your shift pattern
- Specific weeks only, for example during school term time or over holiday periods
- Shifts for a limited time only – for example for 6 months to cover a specific scenario.
What does the law say about flexible working requests?
By law, employees have the right to make a flexible working request if:
- They’ve worked for an employer for at least 26 weeks
- They are legally classed as an employee
- They’ve not made any other flexible working request in the last 12 months
If an employee has the right to request flexible working, then the employer must:
- Look at the request fairly following the ACAS Code of Practice on flexible working requests
- Make a decision within a maximum of 3 months
Some employers will allow you to make a request even if you do not have the legal right. If you’re not sure if flexible working is open to you, check out your workplace’s policy on the matter.
What if I am a parent or caretaker?
All employees have the right to request flexible working, including if you’re:
- A parent
- A carer
- Returning from maternity leave
All flexible working requests should be treated in the same way and there is no priority system for those with children or who care for family members.
If you’re a parent or carer, however, your employer might have other ways for you to take time off. For example, parental leave to look after your child or time off for dependants. Check your workplace’s policies on the matter.
Does my employer have to accept my flexible working request?
The short answer is no. Employers are not obliged to accept a flexible working request and there are a number of grounds on which they can refuse the request.
However, if the request for flexible working is mishandled and the employee feels as if they have been discriminated against under one of the grounds set out in the Equality Act 2010, then the employer could potentially face a claim at an Employment Tribunal. It is important to note that the cap for compensation with discrimination claims is unlimited which can prove to be extremely costly for businesses.
As an employer, how do I respond to a flexible working request?
If your employee has the right to make a flexible working request, it’s important to:
- Ask for the request in writing
- Consider the request fairly
- Look at 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 3 months of receiving the request
If you need more time to make a decision, you can extend the time limit if your employee agrees.
If you approve your employee’s request, this will usually change the terms of the employment contract.
When making a decision on a flexible working request, you should follow the ACAS Code of Practice on flexible working requests.
What if the request is not possible?
You can only turn down a flexible working request if there’s a valid business reason. By law, a request can only be turned down if:
- It will cost the business too much
- You cannot reorganise staff to make it work
- There will be a negative effect on work quality
- There will be a negative effect on the business’ ability to meet customer demand
- There will be a negative effect on performance
- There’s not enough work for your employee to do when they’ve requested to work
Flexible working is a great way for employees to keep their work/life balance in check but it is also important to remember that it can only be accomplished if it suits the needs of the business.
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