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Zoe Sinclair, founder of Parents Matter, which provides parenting events in the work place, responds to your queries

I have read a lot recently about flexible working with many terms flying around. This would be something that I am keen on looking into but want to understand fully what it involves before I pursue anything. Can you help?

The most important thing to understand is what is meant by flexible work? Generally flexibility and flexible work are terms used to describe a wide range of work styles and employment practices. Broadly speaking, they are used to describe all kinds of employment which differ from the traditional 9-5 full time job with a permanent contract.

The “flexible” aspect of these types of jobs can, in different instances, relate more to the employees, or to the employer, or to both. That is, from the employees point of view, flexible work may allow more freedom to organise their employment to fit in with other parts of their life. For an employer, the flexibility may come with the ability to organise labour resources more in line with the varying needs of customers, or with peaks and troughs of demand.

Flexible working can come in several forms enabling the employer and employee to find a solution that meets both needs:

Part-time working enables employees to work shortened hours during a week. A typical analysis of roster coverage conducted by consultants from Rostima, shows that many shifts currently being worked are too long to deal effectively with customers, and that by introducing part-time shifts, the same levels of customer service can be achieved at much reduced cost. Part-time employees can be used very effectively to cover peaks in workload demand.

Flexi-time enables staff to bank extra days off but gives the employer the flexibility to extend working hours to meet vital deadlines. Employers offering flexi-time often find that it introduces a greater level of co-operation and support between employer and employee. Employees will be more able to arrange appointments during time off which helps reduce absenteeism. Flexi-time can also be used to reduce the need for overtime payments.

Annualised Hours enables an employer and employee to balance the times worked and times off, across a complete year. This works particularly well when customer demand is seasonal as staff can cover more work hours during the busy months and have more time off when demand is low. Many employers now prefer to use annualised hours rather than employ on short-term contracts or use casual labour during peak months. Other terms you may have heard could be term-time working, jobshare and compressed working weeks.

Perhaps the greatest examples of flexible working came during the 2002 football world cup when many employers introduced types of flexible working to allow employees to watch the matches whilst still achieving their work requirements. This was done to reduce absenteeism and produced significant short-term gains but there is mounting evidence to show that the employer can gain longer-term advantages.

To many people it always seemed a touch arbitrary to allow only parents with children under 6 the “right to request flexible work”.

In April this year, the “Right to Request” flexible work in the UK was extended to include carers of spouses, partners and relatives. Previously the right applied only to parents of children under 6 and parents of disabled children under 18.

Under these regulations, to qualify as a carer you must be, or expect to be, caring for a spouse, partner or relative or live at the same address as the adult needing care.

The “Right to Request” operates in the same way as the existing right for parents of young children established under the 2002 Employment Act. It is not a right to flexible work, only a right to request, just like it says. Employers can still say “no” - but they have to have good business reasons to do so.

The main issues to be aware of are:

  • trust and supervision

  • communication between staff who work at varying times, and who may meet less frequently

  • optimising use of the buildings (and car parks)

  • integrating non-core staff

  • achieving fairness in benefits for all staff

For more in-depth information go to and look up Flexible Working and Work-Life Balance.

Get in contact to shed light on issues that are worrying you or you think you can help others with. Write to us at [email protected] and together we can have a go at putting the world to rights!