Home Advice for Parents & CarersFlexible Working and Working Hours Choosing a new work pattern: a step by step guide for employees

Choosing a new work pattern: a step by step guide for employees

Last updated: 7 May 2021

Step 1 – What to ask for

It can be hard to know what to ask for, especially if you are going back to work after having your first baby or if you are considering your responsibilities and don’t know how long-term they will need to be. You may need to think about the following things.

If you have a partner, doing this exercise together will give you an overview of how your family currently works, how you both want it to work and what you might both be able to change.

What is realistic for the type of work you do? For example, not all jobs can be done from home. If you want to change the times when you work, this may have an impact on your duties (for example, whether you can still open up the workplace at the start of the day), or how busy you will be.

What are your priorities? Before you start, it may be useful for you to look at the whole of your life and work out what is most important – what do you want to spend time doing? You could use the exercise below to help you do this.

My Priorities

If you are considering making changes in how you organise your time it may help to have a look at your personal priorities in the whole of your life, for example,  work, partner, children, friends.  Which areas of your life can be difficult or do you anticipate will be difficult? What is most important for you, and what do you need to hold it all together?

It might help you to look at the list below to think about whether you are really living life according to your priorities:

Number the following in the order you consider them priorities, for example,  if your children are the most important thing in your life, give them number 1, partner 2, work 3.

You will need to print out the page, or copy and paste it into another document, in order to enter your answers.

When you’ve done the exercise once, order the activities again according to the time you actually spend on them.

Me time
Other family (e.g. parents)
Community activities
 Add your own

You may find the results show your life is well balanced and that the amount of time you spend on each area is about equal to its importance to you. However, many will find that they are spending a great deal of time on things which are low on their list of priorities and much less time on those which are high. If the results show a need for change, start by just picking off one thing you would like to change (again you will need to print out or copy and paste this form).

I am committed to making………………………my priority.

Specifically this means:




How this will benefit me:

I will make…………….(amount of time) per day to do this,  starting ………………. (date)

The first thing I must do is: ………………………………………………………………….

What could get in the way of making this happen? ………………………………………………………………………

What can I do to overcome this? ………………………………………………………………

Who can support me to make this happen? ……………………………………………………………………………………….

Once you have successfully made a change in one area, move onto the next, always setting yourself very specific measurable goals. There are many self-help life coaching books and websites which can help you think about how to make changes to your life.

(The idea for this exercise was kindly provided by Sarah Litvinoff – life coach and author)

What childcare or other forms of care are available, where it is, and how much it will cost? How much do you want to use formal sources of care, and how much is it possible to provide it yourself or with your partner and family? Can you get any help with the costs?  There is more information about childcare on the Family and Childcare Trust website. You could contact your local Family Information Service for local childcare information, you can find out your local details on the GOV.UK website. If you are caring for an adult you can find out information about organisations that can help on the Carers UK website.

Travelling to work – how long does it take? Who will drop off and pick up your children from childcare? In the case of an adult, who will take responsibility for meeting the individual providing formal care each day and for dropping off and picking up from any formal care arrangements? How much is this going to cost and does the price vary depending on when you travel?

Who does what? For example, at the moment, who takes children to and from school? Who does the household shopping? Who cooks meals, and who is in charge of getting children up and dressed or asking them about homework? Who will be in charge of arranging any healthcare needs, including doctors’ or hospital appointments? It may be useful to have a discussion about these things: perhaps some of them could be changed, which will give you more options for working flexibly. Or perhaps your partner could think about changing the way they work instead of, or as well as, you.

What do you value about work? As well as working to make money, there may be lots of other reasons why you want to carry on working or go back to work: your colleagues; getting out of the house; long term career prospects; status and self-esteem. If you have a partner, it’s worth doing this together, so that you both feel you have considered the value of work to each other.

How much do you need to earn? You may need to ask for estimates of your salary on different hours. If you don’t want to alert your employer, you can always try to work it out yourself based on a pro-rata salary (proportional to the number of days you want to work) – remember that the legal right to request flexible working applies to your original job, although you and your employer may end up negotiating about what you do. If your partner earns more or less than you, this could be one of the factors you think about in deciding whether you both go part-time, or which one of you stays full-time – or any other pattern which will work for your family.

Can you manage your finances differently? It may be worth looking at the overall picture of what you spend money on, whether you can reduce your outgoings and increase the money you have coming in. Try the Money Advice Service website which has guides on managing your money in different situations, including bringing up a family and caring for someone. You can also take a financial health check which will highlight any areas you may need to think about.

There are many different types of flexible working. You don’t have to ask for reduced hours. It could be that you want a compressed working week (fewer, longer days), a job share, finishing earlier to collect your children, term time working, or more time working at home.

You should also think about what will suit your employer, and what will fit in with your workplace. However you make your request, you are more likely to be successful if you can show that you have thought through how it will work in practice. If your employer has any family friendly policies, it’s worth finding out what these are in advance, and how they have worked for other people.

It may help if you can suggest more than one option to your employer, to show that you are willing to be flexible and discuss which options will suit the workplace best, as well as your situation.

Choosing your hours

It can be difficult to know what working hours to do when you have a child, especially if you are returning to work after a period of leave. You will need to weigh up factors such as childcare costs, travel to work, earnings, and any other help you might get, for example, from tax credits.

If you are trying to decide which is the best pattern of work for you, it will help to know how much your income will be after work-related expenses like travel and childcare costs. This table can help you to compare up to three different patterns of work. You will have to work out your income from tax credits and other benefits – the table will not do this for you.  You can use internet-based tools like the benefits calculator on the Turn2Us site, or the GOV.UK site.

Hours of workIncome: take home pay (after tax and NI)Income: tax creditsIncome: other benefits (child benefit, housing benefit, council tax reduction)Income: childcare vouchersTotal income
Option 1
Option 2
Option 3

Hours of work Costs: travel costs because of work ( e.g. travel to work, travel to and from childcare provider)Costs: of childcareCosts: any other costs because of your workTotal costs of workingTake-home income after work-related costs (total income from last column above,  minus total costs)
Option 1
Option 2
Option 3

Step 2 – When and how to make your request

When to make your request

If you are making a request for flexible working, make sure you leave enough time for the formal process. If you are making a formal request and your employer does not agree immediately, it could take three months to go through every stage. Do not expect to get what you need or want as soon as you ask for it!

If possible, find out about what is going on in your workplace. Your employer can turn you down if there are ‘planned structural changes’, so it might be worth avoiding making a request until there is more certainty in the workplace.

How to make your request

It is up to you whether you want to make your first approach to your employer:

  • Verbally.
  • In a letter/email.
  • On a form provided by your workplace.
  • Using the government flexible working application form.

Your employer may prefer an informal approach, if for example you have always got on well and/or known each other for a long time. Even if you are intending to put in a written application, a chat with your employer beforehand could help, so that they do not receive it unexpectedly.

If you decide to use a letter or email, it is up to you how formal you make this. If a letter contains everything required by the regulations, it will count as a formal request for flexible working. If it doesn’t contain all these points, your employer doesn’t have to follow the procedure, although you might find that they do so anyway.

If you use a form provided by your workplace, you might also want to check whether it contains all the points it needs to make it a formal request for flexible working.

Keeping records

Try to keep copies of any letters or emails between you and your employer, as well as copies of forms, and make a note of the time, date and content of any conversations you have, whether in person or on the phone.

Step 3 – Building your case

However you choose to ask for flexible working, you will want your employer to agree to the change you have asked for. So you need to think about how your new working pattern will fit into the workplace. This can be quite daunting, but it is up to you to build a case explaining how things will work in the future.

You do not have to write an essay or a long description– just a few paragraphs which show you have thought about the impact of your flexible working.

If you believe that there is no good reason for your proposal to be rejected, this is your chance to explain why.

It may help to:

  • Work with a job share partner (if this is what you are proposing) to set out a proposal of how you will work together and liaise across the working week.
  • Explain the benefits of home working (if this is what you want), what parts of your job would work well from home, how you would stay in touch with the workplace, and how your work could be monitored.
  • Highlight the flexibility you could offer to your employer, if appropriate (for example, if you are able to start earlier or work later on certain days).
  • Explain how the different parts of your job would be affected by part-time hours – would another part-timer need to be recruited, or can parts of your work be redistributed elsewhere?
  • Use what happened during maternity leave to support your argument – maybe you were not replaced, or maybe parts of your work were done differently. Be careful how you use this argument, remembering that you do have the right to return to your old job whatever happens to your flexible working request.

Be as practical as you can about the different parts of your job and how you think they could be done, how you would communicate with colleagues and how any emergencies would be dealt with.

Address problems

Try to suggest solutions to any potential problems which might be created by your new working pattern. It is worth thinking about how the new arrangements would affect:

  • External or internal clients/customers.
  • Colleagues.
  • Line manager.

And anyone else you come into regular contact with during your work.

For example, how will you ensure that there is continuity of service? How will records be kept? How will urgent queries be dealt with on days you are not in the workplace?

It might help you to have a look at other flexible working arrangements which have been successful, in similar jobs or in your workplace.

Step 4 – Negotiating

It’s important to remember that the meetings you have with your employer as part of your flexible working application are a chance to negotiate. The meetings do not have to have a formal layout – they are intended for you and your employer to talk about your proposals and how things might be changed.

You can take a colleague or trade union representative with you. This could help you feel more confident. But even if you do not have anyone with you at the meeting, try running through what you want to say with a friend or partner beforehand.

Some ideas about how to negotiate:

  • Explain your position and your ideas about the changes you are hoping for.
  • Present your employer with more than one option and try to explore them together.
  • Try to understand your employer’s concerns and what sticking points they have and why (for example, they may not feel comfortable with home-working because nobody has ever done it before; you can still run through your ideas of how it would work).
  • Discuss some of the easier areas first so that you can agree on some changes if possible before moving forward.
  • Don’t get stuck on one particular option, instead think about the result you want (being able to pick up your child etc). There may be other ideas or options which will come up during the meeting
  • Think about what is really important to you and what you would be willing to change.

Following a meeting with your employer, if anything is agreed, it is a good idea to get this put in writing. You should also keep notes about the meeting as a whole in case you need to take things further.

If negotiations are not going well and you feel that your employer is not listening or not following the procedure, you may want to get further advice by calling the Working Families Helpline on 0300 012 0312. But before you do, try to be clear about:

  • Whether you want to stay in your job whatever happens.
  • Whether full-time work is feasible if you cannot agree anything else.
  • Whether there are any different childcare options for you.
  • Whether you would be prepared to take your employer to a tribunal if necessary.
  • What are your chances of finding another job.

If you are having problems with flexible working, you may want to contact Working Families for some advice. But it may help to first read this summary of your rights.

This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline or watch our new flexible working film for more details.

If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.

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The information on the law contained on this site is provided free of charge and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. If you are not a solicitor, you are advised to obtain specific legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely solely on this information. Law and guidance is changing regularly in this area.

We cannot provide advice on employment rights in Northern Ireland as the law is different. You can visit the Labour Relations Agency or call their helpline Workplace Information Service on 03300 555 300.