Not Enough Parents Are Getting Flexible Work Hours – So What Can You Do?

There can be a tendency for parents to not want to rock the boat, or to worry that we’re asking too much of our employers

More than a third of working parents feel that flexible working isn’t available to them, despite all UK employees having the right to request it. Research by Bright Horizons and Working Families found a gap between those who wanted to work flexibly (86%) and those who actually did (49%).

They surveyed 2,750 working parents in the UK and found a culture of “presenteeism” – where being physically present in the workplace is emphasised over actual productivity – is partly to blame, as well as unmanageable workloads. More than three quarters (78%) are working beyond their contracted hours, and half of these are doing so because it’s part of their workplace’s culture.

“Some employees are being sent strong messages by their managers or employers that flexible working is a non-starter,” Catherine Gregory, from Working Families, tells HuffPost UK. “More than a third said it’s because flexibility simply isn’t available in their workplace – even though they have the statutory right to request it.”

Parents have a tendency not to want to rock the boat, or to worry they’re asking too much of their employers – but you have rights, and nobody benefits from going without.

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There’s discrimination at play here as well. The report found part-time working parents are half as likely to be promoted as full-time workers, and as most part-time workers are women – 92% in the study – this contributes even further to the already-dreadful pay gap.

One issue may be that employees aren’t aware of what they can ask for. There are statutory rights in place protecting employees who want to work flexibly – as long as workers meet certain criteria, employers have to at least give their requests adequate consideration.

So if you’re a parent considering requesting flexible working, keep these five tips in mind:

1. Know Your Rights.

If you’ve been working for a company for more than six months and are a full-time employee (i.e. you aren’t a self-employed contractor), you have the right to make a statutory request for flexible working. Bear in mind you can only make such a request, in writing, once every 12 months, but your employer has to give it consideration and give you an answer within three months. You can request changes in hours – either reducing them, shifting them or working wholly or partly from home.

2. Make Your Case.

Working Families suggests building a strong case before making a request, demonstrating how it would benefit the company to allow you to work flexibly. Remember – it’s a request, not a demand, and you might not end up with exactly what you want. The charity suggests aiming high and being willing to compromise, as well as being flexible in terms of what you’ll accept. If you’re unreasonable, whoever you’re negotiating with probably will be too. They also suggest making the reason for your request extremely clear if it’s about caring for a dependent, i.e. your child.

It may also be helpful to take into account how your newly-proposed working pattern may affect your employer and how you would counteract any issues, suggests Citizen’s Advice. For example, explain how the work could be managed around your changed hours.

3. Get Everything In Writing.

If your employer turns your request down, they are obliged to give you a reason. There are plenty of reasons they can give – additional costs, concerns about detrimental effects on performance, concerns that reduced hours would mean insufficient work – but if none apply, they kind of have to work things out. Employers are advised by Acas to give this feedback in writing.

4. Suggest A Trial Period.

It’s common for employers to allow a trial period of a flexible working arrangement, explains Working Families. If you’re worried about how your flexible working request will go down with your boss, suggest doing a trial for a month and see how it goes. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, what changes could you make? If you do this, agree with your employer to extend the time for them to make a final decision on your flexible working beyond three months of your original request.

5. If They Do You Wrong, Take ’Em Down.

If your employer doesn’t give your request proper consideration, doesn’t respond adequately, or breaches the law in what they come back with (they can’t offer you less money pro rata when reducing hours, for instance), you can take them to a tribunal.

If you’re a mum requesting part-time hours and your request is rejected out of hand, you might have a case of indirect sexual discrimination. Working Families have a detailed example of a tribunal claim that clearly states everything – what happened, what didn’t happen, and why it was wrong.

Nobody is expecting outlandish demands to be met. Working parents aren’t going to turn around and insist they only need to work two hours a week, from home, for full pay. But workplaces need to take into account that striking an effective work-life balance is something everyone – families, employers and employees – only stand to gain from.

This is just to get you started – for more support and information, visit Working Families or Citizen’s Advice website.