Q: I run a charity staffed by four people. One has recently demanded to go on flexible working. Can I turn him down?
A: I understand your concern. The right to request flexible working is, broadly speaking, available to all employees with children under the age of six and disabled children under the age of 18, provided they have worked for 26 weeks. There is no exemption for smaller organisations.
The size of an organisation may, however, be relevant when considering the request. An employer is under a duty to consider the request seriously but does not have to accept it if there is a valid business reason for refusing. These reasons include the burden of additional costs, a detrimental effect on the organisation's ability to meet customer demand and an inability to recruit additional staff. Small organisations may find it harder to allow an employee to work flexibly both in terms of costs and manpower.
So you must think carefully about ways in which you might be able to meet the request. Is there a way in which flexible working might offer you operational benefits as well as providing a better work/life balance for your staff member? I don't know the reasons for the request but you can guarantee that if you turn it down flat it will affect motivation and work efficiency. On the other hand, if you are able to agree a sensible arrangement it may benefit you both.
Every organisation is different so you really need to work out what each individual staff member wants and how you can accommodate them. Different people may have different aspirations - parents may want time off in school holidays, while young employees might want sabbatical time for travelling.
Use this as an opportunity to consider working arrangements for you and your team. It would not be good to agree an arrangement for one person when the other three might also want flexibility. And I guess the other three will want to ensure they don't have to pick up the work as a result.
Don't fall into the trap of thinking flexible work is just about women or people with child-care responsibilities. The old nine-to-five, Anglo-Saxon approach to work is an increasingly outdated method of working.
Let's think Mediterranean! Let's be catholic about this! So, get out of your box. Think about how this person's job can be done in a different way. I suspect you are very adept in managing your organisation in a flexible and innovative way - see what you can do.
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