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Flexible working - preparing to discuss your request with your employer

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

Once your employer has received your request for flexible working, they should arrange to discuss it with you as soon as possible. If they’re happy to agree to the request, they may not need to discuss it with you.

This page tells you how to prepare for that discussion and anticipate some of your employer’s possible objections.

Top tips

People who already work flexibly recommend that you:

  • show you are organised and good at planning ahead
  • get the support of your colleagues and consider their needs too
  • be willing to be flexible about your arrangements sometimes
  • have a positive approach and be willing to suggest alternative solutions if problems arise
  • find a supportive line manager.

Preparing for a flexible working discussion

You need to present a persuasive argument about how the changes you are requesting are workable, will not adversely affect your employer’s business, and may even bring benefits.

In order to prepare for the discussion, you should:

  • be ready to expand on any points you made in your letter or email
  • be willing to negotiate
  • think about possible objections your employer might have to the changes you have requested, and ways in which they can be addressed
  • be flexible – if you don’t get exactly what you have asked for, is there a compromise you would accept, such as a temporary arrangement, a trial period, or a different start date for the new arrangements?
  • find a companion if you want someone to accompany you at the discussion (your employer does not have to allow this, but it good practice for them to do so)
  • discuss what roles you and your companion will take during the discussion
  • make sure your companion understands your request and the issues it raises
  • prepare notes about what you are going to say in support of your request, if you think it will help.

Practical arrangements for the discussion

If there are any practical arrangements you need for the discussion, you should let your employer know beforehand so that they can try to prepare for them.

If you have a disability, your employer should make a reasonable adjustment so that you are not at a disadvantage during the discussion. For example, if they want a telephone discussion but you find it hard to hear properly on the telephone, it may be more reasonable to have a face-to-face discussion.

Find someone to accompany you at the discussion and ask your employer to allow this

Your employer is not obliged to allow you to bring a companion but you can ask to do so if you think it would help.

Guidance from the Labour Relations Agency, the organisation that helps to mediate between employers and employees, says that it is good practice for your employer to allow you to take someone with you to the meeting.

Your companion must be also be employed by your employer, and can be a trade union representative if they are also a work colleague.

What would your employer gain by agreeing to your request?

Organisations often invest a significant amount in recruiting, interviewing, training and developing staff. It therefore makes sense that they should want to keep you. Your employer would probably rather keep the team intact and keep your skills than go to all the trouble of starting over again if you leave. The advantages of agreeing to your request mean they:

  • keep skills and experience
  • boost morale by showing leadership in giving people more choice and control over their hours
  • keep a successful team intact
  • match work time with peak productivity time
  • keeping people on board once they start a family or take on other responsibilities
  • enable people who develop a disability to continue to contribute productively
  • retain knowledge about the organisation
  • increase diversity to reflect their customer or client base
  • strengthen the business by having a mixture of talent and leadership styles
  • have the flexibility to cover a wider span of hours to meet 24/7 demand
  • lower the impact of stress or personal issues on productivity
  • reduce travel expenses and office space costs
  • avoid redundancies in a difficult economic climate by agreeing to reduce hours. However, you should consider how a reduction in pay now could affect any redundancy pay you would be entitled to if you were to lose your job in the future.

What would your employer lose if you had to leave?

What if a change isn’t possible and the only option is for you to consider leaving? Managers often forget to work out just how much time and money goes into recruiting a replacement.

Think about how you could raise the following points. Ask your employer if they have thought about:

  • the costs related to leaving, including outstanding holiday pay or bonus, time spent on exit interviews, references, administering pension and payroll changes
  • the costs of taking on temporary staff if they can’t immediately find a replacement
  • recruitment and selection costs, including advertising, time spent considering applicants, interviewing, checking references, notifying candidates, giving them feedback
  • induction and training costs, possibly including relocation expenses
  • delays in achieving targets if your employer can’t find a replacement and how this will affect the team.

Possible objections your employer may have

Arguments against flexible working that your employer may raise include:

  • they’re planning to make structural changes
  • they couldn’t afford the additional costs of employing more staff
  • the changes would affect quality, performance or ability to meet customer demand
  • they wouldn’t be able to recruit additional staff
  • they wouldn’t be able to reorganise work among existing staff
  • there is no work during the periods when you propose to work.

For example, if you want to reduce your working hours, your employer could argue that they won't be able to find staff to cover the times you no longer want to work, either because no existing staff could cover for you or because they cannot afford to recruit additional staff.

If you talk to your colleagues about your proposed changes, you may be able to find someone who would like to work extra hours and is willing to cover the times you can’t work.

It could be that the hours you are proposing not to work are generally very quiet and so require fewer staff.

If your employer says that they will not be able to provide a full service to customers unless all staff cover all working hours, this may be discriminatory.

Next steps

Flexible working - discussing your request with your employer

Flexible working - negotiation

Flexible working - further help

Other useful information

Flexible working - discrimination

LRA Flexible Working: The right to request and duty to consider

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