Managing a request for flexible work hours

Flexible working is on the up with stats showing more than 50% of New Zealand employees can start and finish work at different times, but how should you respond to a request for variable working hours?

With unemployment at an all-time low and skills shortages high, employers are offering more incentives to attract the talent they need, including flexible hours. More people are also seeking a better work-life balance, where flexibility plays an important part in their career decision.

Do your employees fall within the 50% who do not receive flexible working hours? If so, it is highly likely that you / if you are not already, will receive requests for some form of flexibility.

EQ Consultants’ Principal Consultant, Viv Patterson shares her top tips for employers responding to flexible working requests:

Types of request

Employees can request flexible working arrangements at any time. These could be to change their hours of work (over a day, a week, or year), days, or location of work.

Recent statistics from Stats NZ’s ‘Survey of working life’ found that flexible start and finish times were one of the most common forms of flexible arrangements offered by businesses.

The types of flexibility varied from industry, occupation and whether they were parents of dependent children.

Regardless of the industry type or role, all employees are legally entitled to submit a request of flexible working.

Your obligations as an employer

Must consider request

Employers have a ‘duty to consider’ seriously any requests from employees.

Whether a request is made digitally or verbally, we highly recommend a formal approach. Ensure your workplace has a process in place for managers and employees to follow and make them aware of this from the start of their employment.

Too often we see panicked employers who are unsure how to respond because they do not have effective processes in place to deal with requests.

Reply within a month

Firstly, you should acknowledge the request and ask for any missing information.

All employers must then reply to their employees in writing ‘as soon as possible, but not later than one month’.

Ensure you have weighed up the pros and cons before responding. The law does not require you to agree to the request if there is good reason, however, there are several benefits of flexible working which you should consider before making your decision. More about these below.

Accept or decline

Once you have considered your employee’s request, you need to confirm your decision in writing.

Before accepting the new arrangement, consider a trial arrangement to see how it works for both parties. You will also need to consider the implications it may have on the employee’s pay and holiday entitlement.

You do not have to agree with the request if there are good business reasons for declining. These reasons need to be stated in the written response to the employee. 

Flexible working options

If both you and the employee are willing to be flexible, arrange a meeting to discuss the arrangement. If you’re struggling to exactly meet an employee’s request for flexible leave, consider presenting alternative solutions that align with both yours and the employee’s needs.

These could include:

  Flexi-hours:

  • Flexi-time and core hours: agree on the number of core hours to allow the employee to have flexible start and finish times. E.g. 10am-4pm
  • Different start and finish times for all employees
  • Time in lieu: allow employees to bank some of their extra hours as leave
  • Flexi-breaks: allow the employee to stop for breaks when suits their workload

  Flexi-weeks:

  • Ability to swap weekdays with a weekend day
  • Team assist with work schedules and roster
  • A week on / week off: common in manufacturing and health industries

  Flexi-year:

  • Annual hours agreed as opposed to weekly hours

 Flexi-location:

  • Ability to work remotely from home, overseas or other location outside the office on a full or part-time basis
  • Option to work between company offices where available

Benefits of flexible working arrangements

Flexible working arrangements can benefit both the employer and employee. These include:

  • Staff retention: keep your employees on board  
  • Improve motivation: decrease absenteeism  
  • Keep up with demand: strike a balance between busy and quiet periods

What next?

Whether you have a team of two or ten, whatever the size, having a process to follow will save you time and any stress down the line.

Remember the four stages:

  1. Acknowledge in writing
  2. Arrange a meeting to discuss
  3. Accept + arrange trial arrangement and periodically review
  4. Decline + ensure you have good reason to

To discuss next steps for your workplace or more information, please contact Viv on (03) 366 4034 or email v.patterson@eqconsultants.co.nz