On April 24th, Change Recruitment held an event on modern parenthood in partnership with Katy Wedderburn, Partner and Head of Employment at MacRoberts LLP. This article is based on Katy’s discussion and insights into the issues faced by modern parents.

As a large-scale study from Working Families shows, UK working parents are overworked and paying a ‘parenthood penalty’ by deliberately downshifting their careers to cope with employer expectations and better meet their family’s needs.

The study revealed that all parents, whether they work full or part-time, work more than their contracted hours. At least 40% of parents contracted to work full time, work more than their 35-36 hours a week with almost 30% of these parents working an extra day -- that’s six 7.5 hour days!  Nearly the same number of part-time parents also put in extra hours with 30% working enough hours to qualify as full-time employees and most of these parents aren’t paid for overtime.

Working too many hours negatively impacts employees’ family lives and relationships with their children. Almost 50% of parents say that their employer’s expectations and work life negatively impacts their ability to spend time with their family with 39% of parents reporting that they often miss saying goodnight to their children or helping their kids with their homework.

What’s the Parenthood Penalty?

As a result of Britain's overworked culture, Working Families’ study showed that parents are deliberately choosing to stall or slow down their careers with 22% turning down a new job or promotion.

At the moment, not pursuing their careers, for both mothers and fathers, seems the only way to achieve a work-life balance and make sure their kids don’t go to bed without a kiss goodnight.

But, what if there was a different way? What if parents could achieve new career heights while still making it home for bedtime?

Flexible working is one viable solution to help working parents meet both their professional and personal commitments.

What is Flexible Working?

Flexible working can be as simple as working compressed hours (35 hours across four days) or flexi-time, where employees start late so they can accommodate school drop-offs.

While every employee who’s worked with a company for more than 26 weeks has the right to request flexible working, many still don’t feel like it’s an option.

Working Families’ study reveals that 46% of parents who would like to work flexible hours, felt unable to and only 44% of parents thought it was actually an option.

Benefits of Flexible Working

Flexible working isn’t just helpful to employees, but benefits companies too. For employers, it can lead to:

  • Increased productivity
  • Lower turnover rates
  • Happier employees
  • Enhanced company image
  • Greater ability to attract top talent regardless of their family situation

We’re such advocates of flexible working that we’ve put together an article on how to promote it within the workplace.

How to Request Flexible Working

As explained earlier, every employee who’s worked for their employer for 26 weeks can apply for flexible working. The labour government has called to eradicate this period, so in the future employees could request flexible working from day one.

If you meet these requirements, you can either request flexible working as a statutory or non-statutory request.

Statutory requests.

Applying through statutory requests gives you protection under the law and means that your employer needs to consider and respond to your request in a reasonable manner. To apply under this route, you need to submit a written request, and you can only make one request a year. Typically, the entire process, including any appeals, has to be dealt with within three months.

Statutory requests are generally the preferred way to request flexible working, but if you don’t qualify for this route, you can make a non-statutory request.

Non-statutory requests.

Non-statutory requests aren’t legally protected, so there are no specific procedures for employers to follow for dealing with this type of application. Sometimes, employers will have more generous flexible working arrangements than provided under the statutory scheme (for example, they may allow you to apply before the mandatory 26 week period).

You can learn more about the different type of flexible working requests at Citizen’s Advice.

How Employers Must Address Statutory Flexible Working Requests

Under the law, employers must reply to your request in a reasonable manner and timeframe. But, what exactly does a reasonable manner mean?

Employers should make sure to properly examine the benefits and disadvantages of the employee’s application, discuss the request with the employee and offer an appeal process.

It’s important to remember that while employees have the right to ask for flexible working, employers can still refuse if they have good reason to do so. However, it’s important that employers can demonstrate why flexible reasoning won’t work and have followed a set procedure to examine and consider the request.

Some of the most common reasons employers can refuse requests are:

  • Planned structural changes
  • Additional costs like hiring cover
  • Negative impacts on performance
  • Company’s ability to meet customers’ needs
  • Inability to reorganise work amongst other staff.

What Happens When an Employer Refuses Flexible Working

If your request for flexible working is refused, you still have the right to appeal. Depending on whether you feel that the request was dealt with fairly, there are different routes you can take to challenge this decision.

You can:

  • Make a referral to the Acas/Labour Relations Agency to resolve the dispute
  • Raise a grievance
  • Submit a claim to an employment tribunal depending on the circumstances
  • Make a discrimination claim, if you feel the decision was based on a protected characteristic like your sex
  • Or, claim constructive dismissal.

Regardless of which course of action you take, you’ll probably need some form of legal advice so a sound starting point would be to talk to Citizen’s Advice and your company’s HR team. They’ll be able to advise you on which route is best and next steps.

Why Change Recruitment

Here at Change, we actively promote flexible working as we feel that it allows our employees to balance their work and life commitments. Many of our senior employees work reduced hours, so that they can spend time with their families, and we always make sure employees, regardless of whether they work part or full-time, make it home for bedtime.

We have many openings within our specialist recruitment teams and would love to hear from you. Check out our available positions here.

Other Relevant Blogs

How to Promote Flexible Working & Support Parents Returning to Work

Read our guide on encouraging flexible working within your workplace and supporting parents returning to work after a child-related absence. Together, we can change the modern workplace and make a difference to modern parents.

9 Ways to Promote Workplace Diversity in 2019

Discover our tips and tricks for recruiting a diverse workforce. From increased employee retention to a more competitive edge, there are many great reasons for promoting diversity.

Creating Positive Mental Health Within the Workplace

Learn about how we’re improving employees’ mental health and concrete steps you can take to promote employee mental wellbeing.