Flexible working has become more popular over recent years, and most certainly since the coronavirus pandemic which turned the working world upside down. Employers were forced to adapt their working processes in every way to allow the company to continue operating and to keep as many people as possible working as safely as possible. For many companies, this proved to be successful, and many have permanently adopted flexible or hybrid working practices into their business.

Furthermore, the advancements we see in technology each year support this change and are helping to make it possible for more and more businesses to allow employees to work flexibly.

In this article, we will explore more about flexible working arrangements, how they can benefit both the employee and the employer, and how to overcome any challenges that may arise.

What are Flexible Working Arrangements?

Flexible working typically applies where the employee has asked the employer to alter the way they work to help them achieve a better work-life balance and to help them manage outside commitments they may have around childcare or caring responsibilities. Where this has been approved, and assuming the flexible working policy has been followed, this will create a permanent change to the terms and conditions of employment.

Types of Flexible Working Arrangements

Flexible working can include:

  • a reduced number of working hours per week
  • changes to start and finish times
  • flexitime around start and finish times
  • condensing their normal working hours into fewer working days
  • working from home
  • working from remote locations
  • job sharing

Advantages for Employees

For employees, the pandemic certainly changed the way in which many people view work. They found that working flexibly improved their work-life balance.

A positive work-life balance doesn’t look the same for everyone. Some employees may require flexible working to help them manage childcare; for others, it may be for health-related reasons, caring responsibilities, or simply that they prefer not to work in the traditional realm of 9am to 5pm.

All the above examples can also vary in terms of what is needed. For example, not all parents want or need to work school hours. Some would prefer to condense their days into fewer working days as this works well with their partner and can reduce the need for – and therefore the cost of – childcare. Likewise, some health conditions may necessitate shorter working days, whereas other individuals may prefer a day off in the middle of the week.

In short, one size does not fit all.

Working flexibly can lower stress levels for many people, as well as reduce commuting time and travel costs – a particularly important point whilst we are currently living in a world where we are seeing astronomical rises in everyday living costs such as mortgages, rent, bills and food.

Furthermore, working flexibly can give employees a sense of feeling trusted to do a good job, which in turn can boost motivation and productivity.

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Advantages for Employers

When we talk about flexible working, the immediate assumption can be that this benefits the employee alone, but this isn’t necessarily the case.

Employers who can permit flexible working – ensuring they utilise their policy to ensure a fair and consistent approach – can see several benefits such as:

  • Improved retention rates, reducing the cost of recruitment, onboarding and training
  • Decreased absence rates and in turn, decreased costs associated with absence
  • Higher levels of job satisfaction
  • Increased levels of motivation, performance, and productivity

When recruiting, many employers assume that salary is the most important aspect of a role for potential employees. As an employer, you can research market rates and offer salaries to compare to your competitors, but research has shown that candidates are seeking more than salary alone and employee perks such as flexible working are high on their list. Offering such a perk as flexible working can give you a competitive edge which in turn can widen your talent pool and attract a wider, more diverse workforce.

Overcoming Challenges

Inevitably, with any such working arrangement, there may be challenges. Whether you can adopt a flexible working approach across the board, or in individual circumstances, you need to ensure you have all the relevant policies and procedures in place to offer the best possible protection to the business. For example, even if you have just one person working from home, you will need to have DSE and homeworking assessments in place to meet your health and safety obligations.

Depending on the business, permitting an employee to work from home may see an increase in costs. Do they have a desktop computer in the office that cannot be taken to work from home? If so, consider the costs associated with purchasing a new laptop, a phone if they need one and any other equipment needed to work safely. What is their internet connection like? Can they work freely without interruption? Additional training may also be necessary.

There is always a great deal to consider with all requests, and all should be considered individually.

If you are a business that can offer flexible working to your entire workforce, have you ticked off much of the above?

Implementing Flexible Working Policies

Flexible working arrangements can prove tricky. For some employers, it simply isn’t possible to offer flexible working arrangements for all positions within the business.

It is therefore important that all businesses have a Flexible Working Policy in place that outlines their procedure and approach to flexible working, and that is also in line with new standards that are to be introduced in April 2024.

Currently, legislation states employees with 26 weeks’ service are eligible to make a request for flexible working. This will change to become a day-one right in the new Flexible Working bill from April 2024. However, some employers are enabling this right sooner than required to give equity across their workforce and support their recruitment and retention strategies. Research from the CIPD in May 2023 found that 39% of employers already offer this as a day-one right, and 14% of employers now plan to introduce this before the legislation takes effect.

As the employer, it remains best practice to review all requests for flexible working, applying a fair and consistent approach. A one-size-fits-all in terms of rejecting requests would not work for many positions, and adopting such a stance will likely lead to appeals, demotivated employees and possibly resignations.

From 6th April 2024:

  • Employees will be able to make two flexible working requests in any 12 months – employees are currently only able to make one request in any 12 months.
  • Employers must deal with requests within two months unless an extension is agreed upon. This means that employers will need to consider requests more quickly.
  • Employees will not have to explain within their application the effect that acceptance of their request might have on the business, or how such an effect could be minimised. This requirement intends to remove barriers from employees who may find it difficult to write a compelling business case.
  • Employers will be required to consult with employees before they can refuse a request.

Rejecting Requests

Employees have the right to request a change, not a right to flexible working, and the employer must consider the request – this will not change. There is a balance to be achieved between the commercial and operational requirements of the business and the needs of individual employees; some requests will not be viable.

Employers are still able to reject flexible working requests for several business reasons; these currently include:

  • if flexible working will have a detrimental impact on performance and quality of work
  • when the work cannot be redistributed among other staff
  • if extra costs will damage the business
  • if people cannot be recruited to do the work
  • if it will negatively impact the ability to meet customer demand
  • when there is a lack of work to do during the time the employee has requested to work
  • if the business is planning changes to the workforce and the request will not fit these plans.

Support for employers

Best practice before declining a request for flexible working would be to establish whether there is any negotiation on the request to ensure the needs of the business can be met whilst accommodating the employee, as well as considering trial periods. Should either of these options be utilised, you should document this and ensure that the employee agrees. Trial periods should be for a reasonable period of time to allow you to fully assess the arrangement, with clear information of what may happen if the trial is deemed unsuccessful.

Your managers and flexible working

Having policies and procedures in place to allow managers to handle the process is one thing. As an employer, you should also consider the approach to such requests, ensuring all of your managers apply a fair and consistent approach to all requests. It should be remembered that employees talk to one another about anything and everything, and discovering some are treated more fairly than others can cause issues.

Wherever possible, employees should be given a full explanation as to why their request may not be accommodated. An even better approach may be to use the flexible working process to enable negotiation – you may not be able to accommodate their exact request, but you could offer an alternative. Furthermore, trial periods could be utilised to test whether this can work for both the employee and the business. Letting employees see that you are trying your best to accommodate them will help to manage the process and will let employees know that you value them by trying to help and retain them in the business.


In summary, when managed consistently and fairly, flexible working arrangements can see great benefits for both employers and employees.

In a market with strong demand for flexible working and where recruitment and retention remain challenging, it is worth considering a wider commercial lens beyond the statutory duties when dealing with flexible working requests to benefit from a more diverse workforce. Employers may inevitably have to deal with a greater number of – and more frequent – requests and must ensure that they consult with employees and consider requests properly before opting to reject them.

The Government believes that the new measures around flexible working will be good for employers, with research showing that embracing flexible working can attract more talent, improve staff motivation, reduce staff turnover and boost productivity.

Our expert HR Consultants can support you by updating your flexible working policy or employee handbook and finding the appropriate balance for your organisation. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Useful questions and answers about “Exploring the Benefits of Flexible Working Arrangements”

What is flexible working?

Flexible working allows employees to adapt, for example, their working pattern or location to better align with their personal preferences or needs.

How can I make a successful flexible working request?

Obtain a copy of the Company's flexible working policy and follow the formal request process. Carefully consider and be able to explain your proposal, the benefits and challenges to the Company and those that may be affected.

What are flexible working arrangements?

For eligible employees and subject to the outcome of the request process, flexible working arrangements could include part-time hours, compressed patterns such as 9-day fortnights, annualised hours, job sharing and remote working.

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