How to request flexible working from an inflexible manager

Blockey manager 300In today’s workplace, flexible working should be an option for everyone who wants it. Any employee who has worked in an organisation for at least 26 weeks has the right to request flexible working  – and their employers have to seriously consider it.

Unfortunately, however, some managers are still resistant to the idea of allowing their staff to work part-time or flexibly. Sometimes there is a good reason, and sometimes there isn’t. Either way, these steps may help you get the answer you’re looking for.

1) Start by deciding what you’re asking for

There are two very different ways to approach a flexible working request; formally or informally. If you are looking to change how much you work, such as going from a full-time to a part-time role, you will need to approach this formally. That's because it will require a change in your contract.

However, if you want to change where or when you work, such as coming in and leaving early on certain days or working remotely, you may be able to agree this informally. Whether you choose to do so will depend on your relationship with your manager. If you think they are likely to block it, a formal approach may be your best bet.

2) Think about what the objections might be

There are a variety of reasons why a manager might not support your desire to work flexibly – and they are unlikely to be personal. So try and take the emotion out of the situation, and consider what else might be behind it:

  • Are there any performance issues that might make you seem unsuitable?
  • Is there a specific part of your job that makes flexibility hard to achieve?
  • Might they be worried about the effect your flexibility would have on their own workload?
  • Could they be nervous of setting a precedent which they then have to offer more widely?

Once you’ve thought about what their objections might be, it’s easier to work out how you could overcome them.

3) Come up with solutions, not problems

If you’ve already come up with a solution to any potential objections, your manager is more likely to be able to see past them and agree to your request. For example, already having someone in mind who could pick up part of your role could really help alleviate concerns about you going part-time.

4) Create your business case

Using the solutions you’ve developed, build a case around the benefits that your flexible arrangement could bring to the business. For example, if you can demonstrate that working from home one day a week would allow you to be more productive on certain tasks, that’s a powerful argument.

To make your case more robust, make sure you use business language rather than approaching it with an emotional or personal tone. Even if you suspect that your manager might have personal objections to your request, being equally personal won't help.

5) Be prepared to be flexible in return

Ironically, some managers think that flexibility has to be introduced rigidly. They fear that if they agree to a Tuesday-Thursday working week, for example, you will never change that under any circumstances.

In fact, flexibility works best when it works both ways. So if you are able to flex around your arrangement to suit the needs of the business, such as switching your days to attend a monthly team meeting, it’s helpful to say so.

Similarly, you may need to compromise when negotiating the flexible arrangement itself. It’s always worth asking for your best-case scenario, but there needs to be some give and take. So, for example, if you want a three-day week, but could manage three-and-a-half, keep that in mind.

6) If all else fails, get some support

Once you’ve been through all the steps above, you should be ready to put in your request, whether formally or informally. The law is clear on your employer’s responsibility: they can only refuse your request if there are specific business reasons for doing so. You can see the list of permitted objections here.

However, even if their reasons are legally acceptable, you may not think they are valid. At this point, it becomes an HR issue. You do have the right to appeal the decision, but again, make sure that you keep your emotions out of any discussions, however disappointed you may feel.

If you have allies or role models who can support you, now is the time to pull them in. You can also seek advice from organisations like ACAS or Working Families.

Given that 87% of the UK’s full-timers either work flexibly already or wish they could, flexible working requests are likely to become more and more common. So hopefully, managers will become more receptive to match. 

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