Flexible Working Policy – A Guide for Employers

Vix Anderton explains why employers should have a flexible working policy and shares her tips on what to include and consider when creating and implementing one.

The recent changes to UK flexible working law have empowered employees to request flexible working arrangements from day one of employment. This latest step in an ongoing trend towards a more flexible work environment offers significant benefits for both employers and their staff.

But with increased flexibility comes the need for clear guidelines and procedures to mitigate the risk of bias and ensure everyone benefits fairly. That’s where a well-crafted flexible working policy comes in.


What is a Flexible Working Policy?

Flexible working policies encompass a set of guidelines and practices to support both staff and managers in applying for, reviewing and responding to applications for flexible working effectively, efficiently, and humanely.

A clear and comprehensive policy empowers employees to understand their options and make informed requests, while also ensuring fairness and consistency in how those requests are handled.

Why do we need a Flexible Working Policy?

With the new flexible working regulations that came into force in the UK on 6th April 2024, employers should be reviewing any existing policies to ensure that, at a minimum, they are compliant with the law.

A flexible working policy will help familiarise managers and HR staff with the latest legal requirements. This helps reduce the risk of your team encountering issues if requests are not handled in a reasonable manner or employees are treated poorly as a result of their flexible working request.

But an effective flexible working policy is an opportunity to go beyond the minimum legal compliance.

Studies have shown that flexible working arrangements can lead to improved employee well-being and mental health, reduced turnover, and a more engaged and productive workforce.

A clear policy minimises confusion for both employees and managers. It ensures everyone understands the process for requesting flexible working arrangements and sets expectations for how those requests will be evaluated.

Book a Diversity Policy Review with EW Group

What should your Flexible Working Policy include?

A well-crafted flexible working policy is the foundation for a responsive, collaborative flexible work environment. Here’s what your policy should include:

1. Clearly defined flexible working arrangements

Clearly describing the available options supports employees to understand their options and make informed requests, fostering a sense of transparency and openness.

List Available Options: Outline the specific flexible working arrangements your company offers. Types of flexible working could include:
Flexitime: Employees can adjust their start and finish times within a core working day. Remote Working: Employees can work from a location outside the office, full-time or part-time. Compressed Hours: Employees can work their full-time hours over fewer days in a week. Part-Time Working: Employees work a reduced number of hours compared to a full-time schedule. Job Sharing: Two employees share the responsibilities of one full-time position. Eligibility Criteria: Consider outlining any eligibility criteria for specific arrangements, such as specific job roles. All employees have the right to apply for flexible working from their first day in a job. Trial Periods: Mention the option for trial periods to allow both the employee and manager to assess the effectiveness of a flexible working arrangement.

2. A straightforward request process

Your policy should clearly set out the process for requesting flexible working for all involved.

Simple Submission: Make the request process easy and accessible, perhaps through an online form or a dedicated email inbox. Required Information: Specify the information employees need to include in their request, such as their desired flexible working arrangement, proposed schedule, and justification for the request.

3. Fair and transparent decision-making

A transparent decision-making process with clear and consistent evaluation criteria minimises the risk of bias and helps ensure a fair process that meets the legal requirements.

Clear Timelines: Set clear timelines for managers to review and respond to requests. There is a statutory 2-month period for deciding requests, including any appeal. Collaborative Review: Employees must be consulted before a request can be rejected. The Acas Code of Practice recommends a consultation meeting, with a written record, where the employee may be accompanied. Evaluation Criteria: Outline the criteria used to evaluate requests, such as operational needs, workload distribution, and impact on team collaboration. Employers must agree to a request unless there is a genuine business reason not to. Mitigating Bias: Flexible working policies should link to any DEI policies to ensure the handling of a request doesn’t unlawfully discriminate against an employee and is compliant with the Equality Act 2010. Communication of Decisions: Your policy should detail how decisions are made and communicated. Decisions must be confirmed in writing within two months of the request being made.

4. Appeals process

Employers must agree to a flexible working request unless there is a genuine business reason not to. If a flexible working request is refused, there is no statutory right to appeal. However, an established appeals process allows employees to address any concerns about the initial decision, promoting a sense of fairness and fostering trust within the organisation.

Clear Path for Reconsideration: Establish a clear and fair appeals process for employees who are unhappy with the initial decision on their request. This might involve escalation to a senior manager or HR representative.

Creating and refining your policy

Whether you’re starting from scratch or updating an existing flexible working policy, consider:

Stakeholder Involvement: Involve key stakeholders in creating or refining your policy. This could include HR representatives, managers, and employee representatives. Code of Practice: The new Acas Code of Practice clearly outlines employers’ duties under the new regulations as well as best practice in handling flexible working requests. Legal Compliance: Ensure your policy complies with current legislation regarding flexible working arrangements. Consider seeking expert advice to review your draft policy. Employee Input: Gather employee feedback through surveys, focus groups or consulting with Employee Resource Groups. Understanding employee needs and preferences is crucial for crafting a policy that is utilised and effective. Clear and Concise Language: Use clear, concise language that is easy for employees of all levels to understand. Avoid legalese and jargon. Accessibility: Make the policy readily available to all employees, perhaps on your company intranet or employee handbook. Ensure the document is available in an accessible format compatible with screen readers and assistive technologies for employees with visual impairments. Use clear, concise language that is easy for employees of all levels to understand and ensure print copies are available for any staff not online.

Get in touch for expert advice on crafting your policy

Beyond the policy: Mitigating hidden biases

There are hidden risks with flexible working. Non-traditional working arrangements may inadvertently exacerbate existing equalities.

Managers may hold unconscious biases against flexible work arrangements, potentially impacting decisions related to promotion, training opportunities, or performance evaluations. At the same time, traditional performance management metrics may not adequately capture the contributions of employees working remotely or with flexible schedules. It’s also important to consider that employees on flexible schedules might be unintentionally excluded from training opportunities due to scheduling conflicts.

To that end, it is important to review other policies like promotion, training, and performance management to ensure they don’t inadvertently disadvantage employees with flexible working arrangements.

Measuring and reviewing

A flexible working policy is not a static document. It’s important to regularly review its effectiveness and make adjustments as needed. Consider conducting surveys or focus groups to gather employee feedback on the policy and identify areas for improvement.

Preparing your team for success

Building a culture of flexibility goes beyond simply having a policy. Once you have a strong flexible working policy in place, the next step is to ensure your team is prepared to implement it effectively. Best practices include:

Train managers: Managers need training on handling flexible working requests effectively and addressing potential biases. They also need support in managing remote teams effectively. Be proactive. Instead of just waiting for employees to request flexible arrangements, encourage managers to have open conversations with their teams to explore what kind of flexible working might benefit them and the team as a whole. This collaborative approach fosters trust and empowers employees to find solutions that work for everyone. Think holistically. Encourage managers to take a holistic view of their team’s workflow and needs. This might involve scheduling core working hours where collaboration is essential, while allowing for flexibility in individual schedules outside those times.

A flexible working policy is a win-win for both employers and employees. It promotes a happier, more engaged workforce, helps you attract and retain top talent, and ensures you’re compliant with current legal requirements. By investing in creating a clear, fair, and well-communicated flexible working policy, you can reap the many benefits this approach offers.

Ready to take the next step?

How EW Group can help

EW Group’s comprehensive Diversity Policy Review service goes beyond just your flexible working policy. We take a holistic approach to identify and address potential biases across all your policies, ensuring a level playing field for all employees, regardless of their working arrangement. Our review process includes:

Examining Existing Policies: We will analyse your promotion, training, performance management, and other relevant policies to identify areas where bias might creep in and disadvantage employees. Identifying Areas for Improvement: We will work with you to pinpoint areas where policy adjustments or new practices are needed to promote fairness and inclusivity. Developing Recommendations: Our team of experts will provide tailored recommendations to address identified biases and ensure your HR policies support a truly flexible work environment.

By taking a comprehensive approach that goes beyond the flexible working policy itself, you can create a work environment where all employees, regardless of their work arrangement, have equal opportunities to thrive.

At EW Group, we understand the complexities of creating and implementing effective flexible working policies. Our Diversity Policy Review service helps you navigate the process and ensure your policy is legally compliant. We can also support with training managers on how to deal with requests fairly, and communicating and implementing the policy.

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