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Could flexible working work for you …?


(As published by My Family Care Vouchers - an online parenting site for users of the market leading childcare voucher scheme.)

Since April 2009, all parents of children under 16 have a statutory right to ask for flexible work, which adds up to around ten million potential flexible workers in the UK. 'Flexible working' is a phrase that describes any working pattern adapted to suit your needs as a parent or carer, for example:
  • Working part-time: either shorter days, or fewer days per week.
  • Working flexi-time: this describes a variable work schedule, which often includes ‘core hours’, such as 11am-3pm when you are expected to be at work, and allows you to make up the additional hours at the beginning or end of the working day to fit in with your personal circumstances.
  • Working term-time only.
  • Compressed hours: ie working your agreed hours over fewer days.
  • Staggered hours: different starting, break and finishing times for employees in the same workplace.
  • Job sharing: sharing a job designed for one person with someone else,
  • Homeworking: working from home.

How to request flexible working
First of all make a written request to your employer. He or she then has 28 days to arrange a meeting with you to discuss your request. When making your application, make sure you refer to the benefits flexible working could bring to both you and your employer. Think about the effect on your colleagues of you adopting a flexible working pattern, and try to identify steps the organisation could take to accommodate this.

The employer must respond to you with a decision, in writing, within 14 days of the meeting. If the employer rejects the request, you have a right to appeal within 14 days of the date of the decision. Your employer can refuse your request for flexible working on a number of grounds, but these must be sound business reasons such as the burden of additional costs, a negative impact on quality or performance, inability to meet customer demands, not enough other staff to cover reduced hours, etc.

You have the right to request flexible working once every 12 months.

Advantages of flexible working
The main benefit of working flexibly is obviously to spend more time with your children. But a flexible working pattern can also significantly reduce stress and improve your quality of life, by giving you more time to cope with your non-work commitments and responsibilities. Reduced hours will inevitably lead to a drop in salary, but you may save a little time and money by travelling during off-peak times.

Disadvantages of flexible working
The main disadvantage of flexible working is the instant drop in salary if you reduce your working hours. In addition to this, working part-time is often perceived as an obstacle to promotion. Furthermore part-time workers often say that they feel they are doing the same job as before, but simply crammed into fewer hours. Working from home can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness and a sense of no longer being part of the team. So it is not all plain-sailing. In fact, a recent survey of working parents by the Equality and Human Rights Commission showed that two in five working dads were afraid to ask for flexible working, even though they are entitled to it, because they think it would harm their career prospects.

Flexible working – benefits for employers
Andrea Murray, acting group director of strategy at the Equality and Human Rights Commission has urged British companies to use flexible working as an incentive to attract and retain the most talented employees.

She says, “Some companies which have adopted forward-thinking policies towards families are reporting increased productivity, reduction in staff turnover, reduced training costs and an ability to better respond to customers.”

Article published on MyFamilyCareVouchers.co.uk (Subscribers Only Parenting Site), October 2009

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