Tips for negotiating flexible working

Last updated: 7 May 2021

Employees have a right to request flexible working, but there is no right to be given flexible working and employers can turn down requests if they have a permitted business reason.

According to the Trade Union Congress (TUC), one in three requests for flexible working are turned down. So it is important to think about how you present your request in order to maximise your chances of success.

The ideal request is one where the employer can see how the flexible work pattern will benefit them, as well as you. This is called “making the business case”.

How to prepare for a flexible working negotiation

Start with an informal conversation. Speak with your employer to see if they would be open to a flexible working request, and any objections they may have. Knowing your employer’s mindset in advance will help you to avoid refusal because you can address their concerns in your request.

Plan ahead and be prepared to suggest solutions and compromises. Think about what your employer’s objections may be, and how you can address their concerns. For instance, if your employer is worried that a flexible working pattern would impact performance, be prepared to explain to your employer how you can make sure that you can keep up performance. Also think about other flexible arrangements that might work for you and your employer – for instance, if your employer won’t agree to reduce your hours, you could suggest a job share.

Gather information on colleagues who work flexibly. Do you have any colleagues who have made a flexible working request? If so, ask them about their request and what made it successful / unsuccessful.

Negotiate in an open, positive and solution-focused manner. Try to keep your conversations with your employer positive by focusing on what can work for you, rather than what is wrong with your current situation. If your employer has objections or concerns, you can overcome these by offering alternative solutions or compromises.

Keep notes! Try to document all conversations about flexible working in writing if possible. This is important in case your employer tries to change their mind, or refuses your request and you would like to challenge their refusal.

For a detailed guide on choosing a new work pattern, see our article on choosing a new work pattern.

How to approach the negotiation

  • Aim high and be prepared to settle for less.
  • Make sure you know what you are asking for and that you ask for it. Think about your objectives carefully – what do you want out of this negotiation? What is the best alternative? What is your longer-term strategy?
  • Don’t expect to get everything that you ask for. Plan for your concessions in advance, and plan for your employer’s objections.
  • Make compromises where possible to allow the negotiations to move forward. You should take a collaborative approach.
  • When in a negotiation, don’t be tempted to fill silence if your manager is thinking or taking time to respond.
  • Don’t wait for the last minute before you make your request, allow plenty of time.
  • Suggest a trial period, so that you can see if it works out.
  • Put yourself in your manager’s shoes, what is reasonable? You should think like your employer. Be aware of how they may perceive your request, and try to bridge the gap.
  • Offer as much flexibility as you can on your side of the proposal, so that your manager knows that you are willing to be flexible too.
  • You should be tough on issues, but soft on people. Focus on maintaining the relationship with your employer.
  • Appeal to their human side – explain why you need the new work pattern and mention if it is because of childcare or disability.

If negotiation doesn’t work

See our article on what to do if your flexible working request is refused.

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 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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Watch our new film to find out more about your right to request flexible working.

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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.