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Finding the Right Work-Life Balance Through Flexible Working

On 2nd August 2022, the European Commission announced the requirement for all member states to apply EU-wide rules relating to improving work-life balance for parents and carers that were first adopted in 2019. The EU’s Directive on work-life balance aims to improve the rates of participation of women within the European labour market and the take-up of family-related leave (parental, paternity, and carer) and flexible working arrangements.

In this article, we will take a look at why it is important to achieve a work-life balance, the rights of UK workers to flexible working arrangements, and how to make a request for flexible working arrangements to achieve a healthy work-life balance.

20 October 2022
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What is the importance of finding the right work-life balance?

In the context of post-COVID-19 hybrid working, workers are under even greater pressure to take on extra work to compensate for the tight labour market. This can lead to excessive hours, burnout and an overall poor work-life balance.
Companies with the best work-life balance can help businesses with productivity and efficiency. According to economist and director at the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute, Jim Stanford, “There is absolutely no doubt that when people have a good work-life balance and get enough sleep, time with their family and leisure time, they work much more productively and effectively”.

Research also shows that working fewer hours per week can improve overall productivity. This was proven in a large-scale study in Iceland involving over 2,500 government workers who reduced from a 40-hour week to 35-36 hours on the same level of pay. Productivity was shown to either remain the same or improve. The study also showed that efficiency can be improved by reducing meeting times and taking other measures to make the best of the shorter working day.

What is a flexible working arrangement?

Flexible working arrangements don’t just refer to working fewer hours; it has a broader meaning and can support you if you feel that you currently have a poor work-life balance. The idea behind flexible working arrangements is to cater for the differing needs of employees, helping with managing your work-life balance. Types of flexible working arrangements may include:

  • Changes to your start and finish times
  • Sharing your job with another person
  • Working from home
  • Working on a part-time basis
  • Working full time over fewer hours
  • Working core hours using flexi-time
  • Annualised hours (whereby an employee must do a certain number of hours but has discretion in how they complete their hours)
  • Phased retirement – reducing the number of hours worked in later life

How to make a request for flexible working arrangements

According to employment law, an employee can make a statutory request for flexible working arrangements (only one application can be made in a 12-month period) if they have worked for 26 weeks or more for their employer. It is important to note that applications for flexible working cannot be made by agency workers, employee shareholders, and members of the armed forces.

An application for flexible working must:

  • Be in writing and dated.
  • State that is an application under the statutory procedure for flexible working
  • Specify the change being sought
  • When the applicant would like the change to take effect
  • Outline if and how the change may impact the employer and how this can be mitigated
  • Confirm if the applicant has applied for flexible working in the past and, if so, when.

Employers are not bound to accept the application, but they must consider it reasonably and fairly. The law states that a request for flexible working can only be refused for one or more of eight reasons (as outlined below). From the date they receive the application, employers have three months to make a decision and notify the employee.  

Why might a request for flexible working arrangements be refused?

According to Section 80G(1)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996, there are eight possible reasons to refuse or reject an application for flexible working, as follows:

  • The burden of additional costs.
  • Detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand.
  • Inability to reorganise work among existing staff.
  • Inability to recruit additional staff.
  • Detrimental impact on quality.
  • Detrimental impact on performance.
  • Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work.
  • Planned structural changes.

Whether one or more of these reasons applies is a subjective assessment by the employer. While there is no requirement for an employer to provide an explanatory reason for any refusal of flexible working arrangements, providing an objective rationale to the employee may be beneficial in the event of an appeal or tribunal proceedings. 

Applications for flexible working may also be rejected if the applicant is not eligible (i.e. they are an agency worker, or they have not been working with the employer for 26 weeks) or if the application has not been completed correctly. 

Final words on how to balance work and life

Flexible working arrangements can enhance the productivity, physical and mental well-being, and job satisfaction of employees, allowing them to achieve an improved work-life balance. Employers should carefully consider the implications of requests for flexible working on their operation and balance these with the needs of the individual seeking the change/s. If it is not possible to agree to the specific request, employers should discuss any other options or compromises with the employee in a manner that reflects their personal needs and circumstances. 

Guillaumes LLP Solicitors is a full-service law firm based in Weybridge, Surrey. We have a highly experienced team of employment law Solicitors who can assist you with any legal matter relating to flexible working arrangements. Get in touch with us today or, to make an appointment, please call us on 01932 840 111.