It’s no surprise that flexible working options are attractive to employees, especially now. Many had a taste of it for the first time during 2020, and since then requests to have more flexibility in the workplace are on the increase.

If you’ve typically operated in the traditional workplace format of having your employees on-site for their 9-5, you might be wondering how to deal with requests to bring more flexibility into the team.

Let our latest top tips can guide you through:

If a staff member wants to make adjustments to their current contract, they’ll need to make this request in writing. Even if they’ve brought the subject up with you in person, make sure they put their request in writing so that you can consider it formally.

Once the formal request comes through, first things first, you need to acknowledge in writing that you’ve received it. This may seem like a pointless step, but it’s vital because it’s going to put a time stamp on how long you have to make your decision and inform the employee of the outcome. From the time of receiving their formal request, you legally have one month to provide an answer.

Next, it’s important to sit down with the employee in question and get a good understanding of why they want to change to a flexible arrangement, and how they see this working within the organisation. Often these kinds of conversations can bring other matters to light that you weren’t aware of before, so it’s really helpful to get the employee’s side of the story before making any decisions.

Once you have that background information, it’s time to review whether what’s been proposed is feasible. This means considering other team members, work priorities and really teasing out what impact the proposed change would have overall. Something to factor in is that other staff members may also request flexible working options once they find out a colleague has been given the green light. Have a good think about what that might look like for your organisation and whether you would have the capacity to accommodate future requests. After all, it’s a bit unfair to grant one person the ability to have more flexibility in their current role if you don’t allow the same for others (should they want it), unless you have a really compelling reason for doing so.

If the employee making the request is part of a collective employment agreement, this is handled differently from those that are on an individual employment agreement, and you may need to contact their Union Representative to find out any potential conflicts with their current agreement.

If you’ve carefully assessed all the options and have concluded that the proposed request is not going to be doable, this needs to be communicated to the employee in writing. Sometimes it can be hard for an employee to understand why their request for flexible working has been declined. This is usually because they’re only looking at it from their perspective rather than taking into account the wider implications on the organisation and their colleagues. That’s why from an employee-retention perspective, it’s important to have justifications for your decisions rather than a blanket no.

It’s also good to keep in mind that there’s more than one way to offer flexible working in your organisation. It can mean flexibility in start and finish times, options to work remotely, options to job share or increase/decrease their hours.

If you’re happy to approve the request, again this’ll need to be documented in writing, as well as making any necessary amendments to their employment contract. It’s also good practice to let the rest of the team know about the upcoming changes. Make sure you keep a record of everything so that if there is any confusion or misinterpretation of what flexible working really means down the track, you have something to fall back on.

If you’re not sure whether the proposed flexible working arrangement is actually going to be successful, you can suggest a trial period to the employee. Set a date on when you’ll review how well the new arrangement is going and make sure this is all captured in writing!

From a recruitment perspective, flexible working arrangements are really attractive to job seekers. It’s become a very common question when people are enquiring about vacancies and can be the deciding factor for those considering multiple job offers. While not every job is conducive to flexible working arrangements, if this is something your organisation can consider it would be well worth your while when it comes to attracting top talent.

As you may have picked up, one of the most important things to remember when it comes to dealing with flexible working arrangement requests is to make sure everything is captured in writing! Avoid the headache of he said/she said issues later on by making sure that no matter the outcome, the process has been well documented with nothing being left open to interpretation.

Employment New Zealand have some great templates and resources that you can use to help with the formal request process. You can find more details here. MBIE also gives a good rundown on reasons why a request can be declined here.

We also provide HR consulting support to our clients, so if you find yourself in the position of considering a flexible working arrangement and need some advice, guidance or even just a sounding board, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the team for a confidential chat.

Good luck,
Kirsty and Nikki

Flexible Work Requests
Putting your best foot forward in 2021