How to trial flexible working in your workplace

Kate Palmer, Associate Director of Advisory at Peninsula, explains how organisations can trial flexible working to see whether it ‘works’ for their business

For businesses, flexible working can help tackle a wide range of issues including increasing diversity, recruiting millennial talent and closing the gender pay gap. 

Despite these positives, many businesses are still reluctant to embrace flexible working. Currently, employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service have the right to submit a flexible working request; however, employers can refuse these based on many reasons. Acceptable grounds for refusal include it affecting the businesses bottom line or having a detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand.

Uncertainty is likely to play a critical role in any refusal, as employers may be hesitant to introduce any new working arrangements that may pose a threat to existing business operations. However, approving a flexible working arrangement on a trial basis could be a potential solution, allowing both parties to see whether the request is a workable solution.

Although there is no legal requirement to offer a trial period, this is a better solution than simply rejecting requests at the outset. After all, individuals are likely to appreciate the opportunity to test if their flexible working request is viable, which should help improve employee relations overall.

The conditions and duration of any trial period should be set out in writing and employers should review the efficacy of the arrangement regularly. It is also advisable to detail the organisation’s approach to trial periods in any flexible working policy so that staff are aware of this opportunity from the outset. 

Once a trial period has ended, employers will have the right to decide whether to make this arrangement permanent. It would be wise to hold a meeting with the employee at this time to explain the decision. If the trial period has been a success, then the employer may go ahead and make the flexible working arrangement permanent, confirming this to the individual in writing. 

However, if the trial has uncovered issues that make the arrangement unworkable, the employer is within their rights to refuse the request. Choosing to deny the request will naturally risk upsetting the employee, especially since they have had a temporary period of enjoying these amended working arrangements. Therefore, employers must be able to rely on evidence to justify their decision. 

Alternatively, both parties may be able to agree on a compromise at the end of the trial period that provides the employee with some degree of flexibility, while also enabling the employer to guard against any negative impact on the business. Either way, utilising trial periods for flexible working requests can be invaluable for an employer. Therefore, allowing the employer time to assess whether an arrangement is appropriate before deciding whether they can afford to make the change permanently.