How to trial flexible working in your workplace – advice by Alan Hickey, Associate Director of Advisory at Peninsula

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. While Irish employees do not currently have any legal right to request flexible work arrangements, employers may decide to put a discretionary flexible work policy in place.

Some employers may be hesitant to introduce flexible working arrangements that possibly 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.

A trial period is a better solution rather 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 be in much better position 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 can of course 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. Trial periods allow the employer time to assess whether a flexible work arrangement is appropriate before deciding whether they can afford to make the change permanently.

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