What employers should consider around flexible-working requests

This article is supplied by Canparent

A 2011 Journal of Child and Family Studies report by Sanders MR, Haslam DM, Calam R, Southwell C and Stallman H, ’Designing effective interventions for working parents: a web-based survey of parents in the UK workforce’ (Journal of Children’s Services, 6, 3, 186-200), found that 85% of parents in employment stated that parenting support via their workplace should be made available to those that request it. 


Subsequently, on 30 June 2014, employees with over six months’ service were granted the right to request flexible working. A harmonious work-life balance is now within reach of the UK workforce and it is more important than ever for employers to consider its benefits. 

While most UK businesses claim to be family-friendly and supportive of flexible working, many parents continue to struggle to reconcile work and family life. 

Currently, UK workplace culture remains fixed on a 9am-5pm work model. Employers, perhaps cautiously, consider flexible working on an ad-hoc basis rather than implementing a proactive approach to incorporating flexible-working practices. 

Where new parents are concerned, many employers may be unable to see past employee absence within a fixed office location and parents are perhaps reluctant to make reasonable requests to change working patterns or are simply reluctant to ask.

If flexible-working policies are unclear, employees with wide-ranging family commitments may feel compelled to leave, taking skills and experience with them. Employers should, therefore, consider making organisational change that benefits everyone. 

Provide a supportive environment

Employers can assist parents, parenting professionals and employees to share tips and techniques to tackle situations in a supportive environment, whether using the organisation’s own resources or by bringing in expertise from a third party. Courses offer practical solutions to everyday challenges. Online parenting classes are also available and can be offered to staff to engage with at their own pace. 

Technology consultancy Amido will see three employees take paternity leave over the next few months. Jo Simon, HR manager at Amido, says: “With employees simultaneously taking and then returning from paternity leave, flexible working is essential to our business. The ability to access work emails on remote devices enables returning and remaining employees to work effectively from any location and at any time with minimal overhead costs. 

“Flexible work options, such as part-time working, working from home, changes to start or finish times, and job sharing, enable us to empower employees wishing to balance careers with home commitments.

“Flexible working is of particular importance to working parents, employees with kinship or other care obligations and is essential to retain employees following periods of parental leave.”

Provide training for line managers

The practical objections often raised by managers are not insurmountable. Ways to tackle them could include flexible working training for all line managers, which should look at the process of the statutory working request and analyse the sequence of events, from communication to implementation, performance management and review. Job performance should take into account a line manager’s ability to manage workers remotely.  

Secondly, employers could invest in new technology. Technology is the enabler of remote and flexible working, allowing employees to maintain work and family obligations. Mobile devices, remote network access and/or cloud services, desktop visualisation and video conferencing can allow staff to work in unison despite being physically separated.  

Explore employee objectives and deliverables and the critical factors affecting the job and project delivery. Are there things that need doing every day? Is the role customer-facing? Is it a task or project-based? Does it need to be carried out in the office? Job designs should be reassessed periodically to judge their compatibility with a flexible-working model.

Communicate with team members

Communicate with the broader team because team members may have a perspective on helping make a flexible-working request work (for example, another worker may prefer to cover later or earlier hours). Flexible working requests should be seen in the context of a broader team and the potential to work together in ways that make sense for each employee. 

Family-friendly policies facilitate choice, ensuring employers and employees have adequate time to manage parental and professional obligations, promote work wellbeing and create gender equality regarding employment opportunities. 

Flexible policies should be viewed as integral to a progressive workplace culture that supports high-quality, productive working. 

Paul Williams is programme lead at Canparent Market Development