Considering a flexible working request

Managers play a critical role in creating and sustaining a flexible working culture. Below are some considerations before you make your decision about a flexible working request. You may also find helpful some key tips and ideas for establishing effective flexible working.

Step-by-step guide

  1. Arrange an initial conversation to find out more. It is important not to make any presumptions about the request without first speaking to the employee. Talk about options and opportunities. Don’t feel you need to make any commitments at this stage.
  2. Consult the Flexible Working Policy and use this guidance to determine whether the request needs to be considered informally or formally, and to inform next steps
  3. Provide support to the individual to help them to develop their request. Whilst they may have a clear sense of their individual needs, it is important that you and they consider the impact (both positive and negative) on delivery of their individual objectives and service delivery as well as that of the wider team, and the impact on service users and stakeholders. You will need to identify and consider the opportunities and risks, including any current flexible working arrangements you already have in place within the team. Refer to the chapter on Flexible Working within Teams in the Flexible Working Policy.

Manager checklist

You may find it helpful to use this checklist in your discussion with the individual when considering the impact of a particular flexible working request.

The individual’s role and the proposed working arrangement
  • What are the requirements of their role?
  • Is the workload achievable within the new arrangement?
  • Does the individual work independently or is there a lot of interaction with students/colleagues/customers?
  • How might responsibilities need to be altered to suit a change of working arrangement? You may find it helpful to list the individual’s responsibilities and then look at each one in turn. You should look at the individual’s job description and consider what they are doing on a day-to-day basis to be able to assess the situation fully.
  • Consider deadlines and other dependencies of role, ie. when some activity the individual is responsible for impacts on another job/team and consider how these requirements can be met or whether there might be scope to change the operation of the role.
  • Consider the individual’s work objectives and think about how these objectives can be measured. If you believe that the measurement of an individual’s performance may have to be changed (eg. because your current methods of measurement won’t work remotely, or targets will have to be adjusted to reflect reduced working hours) think about why and how. Focus on outputs rather than inputs.
  • How might the request affect continuity of service delivery across the team/with other teams?
  • Are there aspects of the role and responsibilities which are time and/or location specific that would be affected? How would these be managed? What would be the impact on other team members?
The wider team and the business needs
  • What flexible working arrangements are already in place? (ie. consider any pre-existing arrangements).
  • Do you need to speak to the rest of the team to see if they can change their flexible working arrangements to accommodate the new request? Some individuals may be very happy to do this if they no longer need flexibility or the same flexibility that was originally agreed.
  • How will you make sure that other team members are not adversely affected by agreeing to the flexible working request? Allowing an individual flexibility should not negatively impact someone else.
Other considerations
  • Consider both the benefits and disadvantages of the proposed change.
  • Are there any advantages that offset the disadvantages that the individual’s proposed work arrangement may create?
  • Consider benefits both to the individual and the running of the team/department/section, to the manager/supervisor and other members of the team. Eg. retention of individual who might otherwise leave, improved punctuality and productivity, ability to provide better coverage for students/customers across the whole team.
  • If a member of staff reduces their hours through flexible working there will be implications to your Department’s budget.
  • Will the permission of an external funding body be required and is it likely to be given?
  • Consider any contractual/visa implications with People and Culture.
  • What technology, equipment or infrastructure requirements would they need.
  • Would they need any additional training needs?

Making your decision and approval

What to consider before making your decision

  • The impact on the business/service provision/team/wider team if the request is approved.
  • The impact the decision may have on the employee if you turn request is refused.
  • The individual's circumstances and their needs (is the request due to ill health?).
  • The case on its own merit. It is not acceptable to turn down a request based on the outcome of a similar request made by another employee(s). It is also not necessary to accept a request simply because another individual is already working a similar flexible working arrangement.
  • If you are in any doubt about the decision you should make, offer the employee a trial period. This will enable both parties to determine whether the flexible working arrangement may be accommodated.

Requests which don't require senior manager approval

For most situations (see below) you can agree to a flexible working request without senior manager approval. This doesn't include contractual changes, such as the number of hours worked (ie. reduction/increase in hours) which need to be decided by the reporting manager or Head of Department, in discussion with, and with the agreement of more senior managers, taking into account any financial implications.

  • Day-to-day informal flexibility can be agreed on an ad hoc basis between yourself and the individual with no need for a formal flexible working request (eg. attendance at a child’s sports day or the need to be at home to receive goods or services, or manage personal appointments).
  • Short-term flexibility can be arranged between yourself and the individual. Your arrangement should be noted briefly in writing/email with a clear statement that this is short term the reasons and with a timescale. (eg. the need to provide time-limited/temporary care for a relative to attend regular hospital appointments).
  • Changes to working patterns can be agreed by you following a formal request. (eg. a change from working a Monday and a Tuesday to a Wednesday and a Thursday).

See the Manager/Head of Department approval process chart (.pdf) for more information.

Decision timescales

You must decide as soon as practicable but within six weeks of the request being made. Managers may use a trial period to assess how an arrangement may work, usually a period of three months.

After a request has been agreed

A formal flexible working request is permanent, unless the request is for a temporary arrangement or there is need for a trial period.

Once agreed a formal flexible working request is permanent it will remain in place until either another request is made by the employee or organisationally there is a requirement to review the needs of the workload and consult regarding change. If such a change is needed, this will be discussed first with the individual concerned.

Trial periods

You may use a trial period to assess how an arrangement may work, usually this will be for a period of three months and agreed by you and the individual in writing.

Colleagues asking for the same arrangements

It is important to remember that just because you’ve permitted one arrangement for one individual, it won’t automatically entitle others to the same arrangements.

Requests should be considered in the order in which they are received. If the first request is approved this will naturally change the context in terms of the second request. There is no requirement on you to make a decision based on the most deserving request, simply consider each request on its own merits in order.

You must make your decision based on the business needs and resources available at the time of their request. Circumstances may have changed since the other employee had their request granted which may unfortunately mean that it is not possible to grant the most recent request.

All decisions should be focused on organisational needs and job demands. It is important to communicate to everyone the decision and its rationale. Documenting the basis for these decisions is always a good idea in case questions arise later.

In an environment where a number of staff are already working flexibly, it may be helpful to consider calling for volunteers from staff with existing arrangements, who may wish to change these working arrangements, thereby creating the capacity to grant a new flexible working request.

People and Culture will be able to support you to consider requests where they may be of a complex nature.


If you've refused a flexible working request, the employee has a right to appeal. You're not allowed to tell them not to appeal. If the employee wishes to appeal, they must do so within 14 working days.

Find out more about the appeals procedure.

New starters and fixed-term members of staff

New starters 

New starters with less than the statutory 26 weeks service are able to make a request for flexible working. We do not require our staff to have a minimum length of service before they can submit a request.

If you receive a request from a member of staff with less than 26 weeks service then you should consider their request in line with the Flexible Working Policy (.pdf).

Fixed-term members of staff

Fixed-term member of staff can make a flexible working request. Fixed-term employees should be treated the same as permanent staff.

Receiving more than one request at the same time

It is likely that you may receive competing requests from different individuals which may mean that they are not all possible.

Considerations that may help in reading a decision:

  • consider all new requests alongside requests already in place. Existing arrangements should not be overturned to accommodate new requests (unless the individual agrees).
  • are any of the requests supported by Occupational Health as part of a reasonable adjustment for a disability? Speak to People and Culture for advice.
  • review business/service needs. There is no requirement on you to make a decision based on the most deserving request, simply consider each request in the context of the business/service.
  • some workers will be unable to take advantage of some options simply because of the nature of their work. (eg. someone who works on a reception desk may not always be able to work from home, but they might be able to job share or work in the office on a rota basis).
  • you may wish to find a way of sharing whatever flexibility may be available. This could involve agreeing some sort of rotation whereby the individuals take it in turns to work to their chosen pattern.
  • it may be possible to agree a compromise in which you agree changes that go some way towards meeting the requests made by a number of employees, even if no application is granted in full.
  • Consider suggesting an alternative arrangement.

Advice should be sought from People and Culture if you think you cannot accommodate all the requests and will have to prioritise them.

Concerns about agreeing to flexible working

Flexible working can have positive effects for both the individual and the University and every effort should be made to accommodate the request. Where a flexible working request is made, you should consider it with a view to making it work, which may mean thinking creatively about how the team and delivery currently works.

If you believe that supporting the request may not be possible you should discuss any potential difficulties with the individual in the first instance. Proactively explore possible alternatives which may be different from that proposed and ensure that all possible flexible working options are discussed. If a compromise can be made, then try it.

When making a decision, you will need to balance the operational needs of the University with individual preference. The request can only be turned down for a genuine legal reason (see below). People and Culture are happy to help should you need it.

Trying to persuade an individual not to submit a formal flexible working request is not allowed, even if you don’t think it can be accommodated. All employees have the right to make a formal flexible working request and you have a legal requirement to consider the request in a reasonable manner. It can only be turned down for a genuine legal reason (see 'Legal reasons for turning down a request' section).

Requests for reduced hours

What to consider

In coming to a decision, you should consider whether the role, and work requirements, remain full-time even if the individual moves to part-time hours.

If the role remains full time, then consideration will need to be given to how to cover the remaining hours, eg. another part time role, job share, re-organising work in some other way (but which ensures that no one has a role which is over loaded).

Additional requests within 12 months

Where changes are to reduce working hours, only one request may usually be made in a rolling 12-month period to limit disruption to delivery. If the arrangement suits both parties however, then this can be considered.

Teaching constraints v flexible working requests

Teaching constraints

Teaching constraints are where an individual is available to work but not to teach. This must be time specific (eg. not available Monday, 10am-11am). Teaching constraints are not permanent and will be considered on an annual basis.

Examples include:

  • regular meeting which occurs at the same time each week
  • collaborative research group
  • time needed for lab use
  • training commitments

If the request is a teaching constraint request, you should follow the teaching constraint procedure contained within the timetabling policy (.pdf).

Formal flexible working

Formal flexible working is where an individual is not available to teach or work due to personal commitments. Changes following a formal flexible working request are permanent and will remain in place until another request is made by the employee or organisationally there is a requirement to review the needs of the service. This should help to provide more certainty for individuals, particularly in the case of care commitments.

Examples include:

  • regular childcare commitment (eg. school drop off/pick up)
  • regular personal activity such as a sports club/hobby
  • regular caring for a dependent relative

Ill health

Where individuals are unable to teach at particular times due to health reasons this should trigger an occupational health referral.

Teaching constraints and flexible working arrangements

An individual can submit a teaching constraint if they already have an agreed flexible working arrangement. Having a formal flexible working request does not preclude the individual from submitting a ‘teaching constraints’ form to accommodate other work commitments such as research group meetings etc.

What to consider

As part of the teaching constraints process it is important that you review all the flexible working, teaching unavailability and OH adjustments for the whole department together. This ensures appropriate teaching cover and confirms that you have considered the applications carefully before submission.

You will need to review all new constraints alongside those previously approved on a permanent basis. Any new flexible working approvals should be sent to People and Culture .

You should think about:

  • teaching commitments of the department
  • availability to students for contact time
  • impact on other colleagues
  • whether there are management responsibilities

Key things to make teaching staff aware of

  • The difference between a teaching constraint and formal flexible working.
  • The deadline for constraints and flexible working requests.
  • Constraint forms need to include specific times, ie. not available to teach between 9am and 1pm on a Monday. (To say Monday morning or afternoon is not enough information).
  • Teaching can be scheduled Monday – Friday between the hours of 9am to 6pm. If they have a constraint that does not allow them to teach in those times they must submit the appropriate form.
  • The teaching timetable changes annually, and therefore staff should not expect the same teaching schedule as previous years.
  • The nature of an academic role means that some of the duties must be carried out in particular locations; most notably teaching and meetings with students, lab-based research or assisting recruitment of new students at Open Days.
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