UCL Human Resources


Work-life balance policy

A framework to enable staff to achieve an effective work-life balance.


  1. Scope and purpose 
  2. Introduction
  3. Criteria for dealing with a request for flexible or revised working arrangements
  4. Flexible working options
    Annualised hours 
    Term-time working 
    Shift working 
    Rota working/staggered hours 
    Job share 
    Job splitting
    Part-time working 
    Flexible retirement and part-time working 
    Planned remote working
    Compressed hours 
  5. Review of arrangements 
  6. Monitoring of the policy

Appendix 1: formal procedure for hearing work life balance requests
Appendix 2: a model flexi-time scheme
Associated documents: forms

1. Scope and purpose

1.1 UCL acknowledges that its staff are most productive when they have achieved a work-life balance that enables them to meet their responsibilities outside work. This policy provides a framework within which departments (1) can consider how best to enable staff to achieve an effective balance between work and life outside the workplace. This framework incorporates UCL's statutory responsibility to consider requests for flexible working for any reason. This document should be read in conjunction with existing policies which facilitate flexible working and time off from work and are listed under the related Policies and Guidance.

1.2 This policy relates to all categories of UCL staff.

2. Introduction

2.1 UCL aims to recruit and retain staff of the highest calibre. Remuneration and other benefits, regular appraisal and development opportunities, good job design, and effective management practices are all important factors in enabling departments to achieve this objective. Research suggests, however, that increases the opportunity to achieve a work-life balance can be as important a factor as pay and benefits in attracting and retaining staff and therefore this policy has the aim of benefiting both staff and UCL as an employer.

2.2 Some departments already have arrangements in place whereby staff operate flexible working patterns and some groups of staff enjoy flexibility in their working arrangements that enables them to work from locations other than UCL and/or at times other than the standard working week. The purpose of this policy is to set a framework within which more staff can benefit from a greater degree of flexibility, but it is acknowledged that the options available to an individual or group of staff will depend largely on the nature of their work, the location of the workplace and the size of the team with which they work.

2.3 UCL recognises that not all departments operate services or undertake work, within the “traditional” 9-5 hours working day and many staff members work part time or work different hours to their colleagues. Whilst the majority of meetings should still be able to take place between 10am-4pm,  in addition to the requirements of their service, the meeting organiser should take into account attendees working hours in order to ensure meetings takes place at a convenient time for everyone.

2.4 Under this policy, staff who request (or agree to) revised working arrangements must do so voluntarily and should consider the potential financial implications of their choice on their salary, pension benefits etc. It is not intended that these proposals be operated in a way that undermines existing contractual entitlements. Any approved request for revised working arrangements will mean a permanent change to the individual's terms and conditions of employment on completion of a trial period and there will be no right to revert back to the former hours of work once the trial period is satisfactorily completed unless a temporary change has been explicitly agreed. Any changes in working arrangements must be requested in MyHR so that a new contract can be issued and the HR Record updated. Where posts are externally funded, a request for flexible working might also have to be discussed and agreed with the funding body.

2.5 The options outlined below can be utilised in two ways. Firstly, Heads of Departments should consider whether one or more of these options could effectively offer greater flexibility to a group of staff for whom they are responsible, in view of the work they do and the hours during which certain duties need to be undertaken. Heads are responsible for ensuring that opportunities for flexible working are offered consistently across their department, where they are appropriate. Where the Head of Department proposes that flexible working arrangements are made available to a group of staff within a department, the details should be communicated in writing to all staff to whom they apply. Where alternative working arrangements are agreed for a group or an individual, the requests must be submitted in MyHR so that a revised contract can be sent out and the HR Record updated.

2.6 Secondly, one of the options outlined below may be requested by a member of staff by writing to their line manager/Head of Department. Individuals making a request for a change to their working arrangements should set out

  • the reason for their request  
  • the change in working pattern requested  
  • the required start date  
  • any effect which the individual considers the change will have on the work of the department/team in which they work and suggestions for addressing these.

2.7 Employees can only make one application for flexible working in any 12 month period.

The framework within which managers must respond to such requests is outlined in Appendix 1 of this document.

2.8 Line managers seeking advice on the working arrangements that could suit particular circumstances or who would like advice on evaluating the appropriateness of a flexible working request, should contact the HR Business Partnering team. Departments might wish to consider making options available that are not included in this policy and if that is the case, these should be discussed with the relevant contact in the HR Business Partnering team before implementation, to ensure that any implications for matters such as annual leave are identified and that there is no unwitting detriment in the proposed arrangement, for either employees or for the department.

3. Criteria for dealing with a request for flexible or revised working arrangements

3.1 Managers must take the following into account in considering requests for alternative working arrangements:

  • The potential benefits of the proposal which may include improved productivity, morale and commitment, retention of key staff and/or salary or other cost savings. Work must be as productive (or more so) following the implementation of any changes.

  • The change must be feasible and have no adverse impact on the work of colleagues, the department, students, research sponsors, service users or any other relevant third party.

  • The arrangements must have no adverse impact on the workload or health, safety and security of the individual concerned or their colleagues: managers must be aware of the hazards of working outside the 'normal' day and should consult their departmental safety policy in the first instance if they have any queries.

  • Any additional administration required to implement the proposed arrangement must be practicable and cost effective.

  • The change must be able to be managed effectively and may generate efficiency gains in terms of use of office space.

  • The proposal must not hinder the achievement of individual, team or departmental objectives.

  • If a proposal will affect an individual's pay they should be advised to consult the pensions department in order to ensure they understand how their pension might be affected.

  • Where the arrangement proposed cannot be accepted for operational reasons, possible alternatives should be considered and discussed with the individual before a final decision is reached.

3.2 Providing that there are no adverse operational or financial implications, requests should be considered favourably with a view to agreement, wherever practicable. When moving to a new or more flexible working arrangement, all parties should be aware of the need to monitor performance levels to ensure that they are effectively maintained.

4. Flexible working options

4.1 Flexible working arrangements must conform to the Working Time Regulations and minimum rest periods must be adhered to (see Working Time Regulations Policy)

4.2 Flexitime schemes usually involve individuals working a set of "core hours" in which they are obliged to attend work, with periods either side of the core, within which they can choose their arrival and departure times. Arrangements for cover of the office/lab etc. outside core hours must be written into any agreed scheme, as must arrangements for dealing effectively with regular peaks in workload across the week, month or year. An outline model scheme is detailed in Appendix 2, which allows flexibility in starting and leaving times within the month but does not facilitate staff taking additional days leave. Academic, Research and Professional Services Staff on Grades 7 and above are eligible for time off in lieu of additional hours worked and it is not expected that they will be included within formal flexitime schemes or annualised hours schemes.

For employees some of the benefits are:

  • the opportunity to avoid commuting in the rush-hour

  • control over their start and finish time from day to day within certain parameters, to allow for changing domestic or other commitments

  • being able to take a child to or from school, to accompany a friend or dependent to a day centre or similar, to await the arrival of a carer prior to leaving for work or flexibility to pursue interests/hobbies outside work.

  • the ability to schedule work which does not involve contacting others, for quieter times outside normal office hours

4.3 For UCL the benefits are being able to recruit and retain staff whose domestic commitments or interests outside work mean they need flexibility to allow them to cope with the fluctuating demands of home life or who wish to commute outside the rush hour. Research indicates that having more control over starting and finishing times can increase job satisfaction significantly. Any newly implemented flexitime scheme should be closely monitored and reviewed by the Head of Department after an agreed trial period.

4.4 Annualised Hours - under this option, working time is organised on the basis of the number of hours worked over a year rather than a week. This can help to resource predictable peaks and troughs of work during the year and could, for example, involve staff working shorter hours outside term time or longer hours over a very specific period such as during degree ceremonies or preparation of year-end financial returns, with the compensation of shorter hours at other times of the year/term.

4.5 Annual hours are based on the working week multiplied to an annual total, less annual leave, closure periods and public holidays. Scheduling annualised hours may be an average monthly total to be worked, or may take the form of planned periods of more intense work followed by periods of rest. Such arrangements can in principle meet the needs of employees who are comfortable with variation in employment intensity to dovetail with other aspirations in life. Annualised hours arrangements must conform to the Working Time Regulations and therefore an average 48-hour week must not be exceeded and minimum rest periods must be adhered to (see related policies and procedures). The prescribed working hours must be set out on an annual basis in writing to staff involved in annualised hours working and there must be a robust system for ensuring that hours worked, are recorded.

4.6 Term-time working - this is a variation on annualised hours in that the hours worked coincide with school or UCL terms only. Such working arrangements are usually only suited to those activities where the activity of the post is only during the academic term. It can be of mutual benefit to employees and departments in these circumstances and allows staff to be at home during school holidays. Salary in these circumstances is usually paid over twelve months of the year and annual leave is taken outside term time. There are clear advantages for some staff in this arrangement but there may be problems for departments in terms of continuity and cover, especially if the individual has scarce skills or expertise.

4.7 Shift working - Shift working operates in some parts of UCL such as in the Security service where 24 hour cover is needed. Where shift working is in operation, a formal structure within which staff can swap occasional shifts with colleagues can enable staff to address individual domestic commitments.

4.8 Rota working/staggered hours - This option enables the agreement of a fixed pattern of starting and finishing times for each individual and enables members of a team to cover the work required in an office or lab for a longer working day than might otherwise be the case if everyone followed the same working pattern. It therefore has the benefit of enabling the extension of office/lab/building opening hours and enables individuals to travel outside rush hour and work to a fixed routine around which they can plan their leisure time.

4.9 Job share - is a particular form of part-time working, where all aspects of a job are shared between two people. A job share could in principle involve more than two people but the coherence of the job tends to disintegrate when more than two people involved. There may be certain roles for which job share is not a viable option and if there is any doubt, HR should be consulted.

4.10 Models for job share vary. A 50:50 split is most common, but other variations are possible. Job share works best when both workers have a few hours a week overlap, to enable the effective handover of information and to allow them both to attend team meetings etc. When looking at this option it is crucial to consider whether an overlap period can be physically accommodated but often, other than when they are meeting to hand over, job sharers share a workstation. Job share has the advantage that there are two members of staff who are familiar with the responsibilities of a role and if annual leave is staggered, it is possible to cover the duties with shorter gaps throughout the year, which may result in a better service provision for customer facing roles.

4.11 Job splitting is also a form of job share in which the range of tasks within a role are split between two or more staff. This option is less satisfactory than job share as the post holders do not gain the career development opportunity of undertaking the breadth of duties and there is the danger that one partner will undertake more of the routine aspects of the role than the other. Managers wishing to implement job splitting must seek advice from the HR Business Partnering team as the arrangements may have implications for the grade of one or both aspects of the post.

4.12 Part-time working - this option allows employees to reduce their working hours to enable them to meet temporary or permanently increased responsibilities outside work. Staff should seek information regarding the impact on salary, pension and other benefits when deciding to follow this option. Once again careful consideration must be given to ensuring the needs of the department are covered when looking at agreeing a reduction in hours. Decisions will have to be made as to whether the remainder of the post needs to be filled and if this is the case, any agreement to part-time working may be contingent on the department being able to recruit to the remainder of the post. Part-time staff are entitled to the same rates of pay and holiday (pro rata) as full-time workers doing the same kind of job, and the same entitlement to pension, maternity leave, sick pay, access to training and promotion etc.

A reduction in hours may be permanent or temporary. If an employee wishes to return to working full time, there is no automatic financial barrier to prevent them from doing so. Such requests should be considered on a case-by-case basis and refused only where there is an objective business reason. The option of reverting to full time working should be discussed ahead of the extended leave being taken. Where an individual has returned to work on a part time basis and subsequently requests to revert to full-time working, any variations in hours must be agreed between an employee and her/his line manager formally with individuals, in terms of a change of contract issued by HR Services. For further information about UCL’s commitment and approach to balancing family and work commitments see the Parental Leave Pages.

4.13 Flexible retirement and part-time working – members of the USS Pension Scheme may apply for flexible retirement (subject to eligibility) and take part of their pension benefits if they reduce their working hours (see 4.12). Staff are encouraged to engage in early discussions with their line manager about reducing their working hours if they are considering flexible retirement. Once a Full Flexible Retirement Quotation has been received, formal applications for reduced part-time working and flexible retirement should be made on this form. Requests will be considered by managers in accordance with this procedure. The Pension Services website contains further information on the USS Flexible Retirement scheme and application process for flexible retirement.

4.14 Planned remote workingPlease see the Remote Working Pilot Policy and Guidance and the Return to Campus - Interim Guidance for Staff and Line Managers on returning to camps following the arrangements during the coronavirus pandemic. Further information is also available in the Hybrid Working FAQs.

4.15 Compressed hours - This arrangement means that staff agree to work longer hours on some days in order to work shorter hours on another day. For example longer working hours on four days of the week can mean that an individual contracted to work 36.5 hours a week can work those hours over four and a half days. While such arrangements can offer welcome flexibility for staff, managers must bear in mind the times and days at which post holders need to be available to respond to queries from others. Due to the need for many post holders to be available Monday to Friday, compressed hours are not feasible in many cases. It is also important that any agreement which meets the needs of a few individuals does not inconvenience a larger number of other staff who are required to interact with them in order to do their job or who will have to cover for them in their absence.

4.16 A move to staggered or compressed hours should be accompanied by the stipulation that the manager may need to request work outside the agreed pattern, in exceptional circumstances, and in such instances time off in lieu will be offered. As much notice as possible must be given in such circumstances.

5. Review of arrangements

5.1 Where there is a trial period in relation to revised working arrangements, it is important that at the review stage a full discussion of the benefits and any disadvantages of the working arrangements are discussed. If at the end of the trial period, either party considers that the arrangements have not been successful it should not continue. If at the end of the trial period the arrangements are deemed by both parties to be successful, the changes will be confirmed as permanent or where further temporary changes to the arrangements have been agreed, timescales will be set for their review.

6. Monitoring of the policy

The HR Division will monitor the operation of the policy and its implementation will be reviewed in consultation with UCL's recognised trade unions.


Appendix 1: formal procedure for hearing work life balance requests

Formal procedure to be followed by a manager receiving a written request for flexible working or a change to working arrangements.

Please note: The expectation at UCL is that most requests for flexible working, will be dealt with informally, without the need to raise a formal request under this procedure.

Where it is not possible to do so, the formal procedure below should be used. Any changes to working hours must still be processed through MyHR using employee self-service.

Where staff may need adjustments to their role because of a medical condition and/or disability, UCL encourages them to discuss this with their line manager informally and outside of the Flexible Working Application Process. This enables tailored adjustments to be considered in broader terms, over and above amendments to working arrangements, and provides for reviews to be conducted as and when needed, rather than once every 12 months. The formal flexible working application process remains open to all staff, included disabled staff, should they wish to apply.

1. Within 28 days of receipt of the application, the manager must arrange a meeting with the employee to discuss the request. The employee will be given one week’s advance notice of the meeting (pro rata for part time staff). The employee is entitled to be accompanied at the meeting by a work colleague or UCL trade union representative. If their colleague or representative is unable to attend the meeting, the employee can postpone the meeting to a more convenient date, and where the postponed date is reasonable and is within one week, the manager will agree to the postponement.

2. The meeting will provide the manager and the employee with the opportunity to discuss the desired work pattern in depth and consider how it might be accommodated within the department. In considering flexible working hours, managers must bear in mind that staff working for a continuous period of 6 hours must take a minimum of a 30 minute break in that period.

3. Managers should, in consultation with their Head of Department/Division consider the issues outlined in section 3.1 of the policy document, prior to the meeting.

4. At the meeting, the employee may be asked to expand on any aspects of their proposal and the manager may ask the employee if there are any other working patterns they could consider. Both parties should be prepared to be flexible.

5. The HR Business Partnering Team can provide advice and assistance to managers in considering requests, particularly in providing advice on practice adopted elsewhere in UCL. Line managers should consult with HR when they are unsure as to how to respond to a request.

6. The time limits for the meeting to take place can be extended if the manager is absent from work or through agreement between the manager and the employee.

7. There may be exceptional occasions where the procedure cannot be followed within the specified time limits. For example, a manager may need extra time to speak to another employee who is on holiday, about whether they could work the hours left uncovered by the employee's requested work pattern, or the employee may be about to commence a period of leave. Extensions of time limits must be in agreement with both the manager and the employee and the manager must make a written record of the agreement. The written record must specify the period the extension relates to, the date on which the extension is to end, be dated and sent to the employee.

8. When an application is sent to the manager and it is clear that the manager will be absent from work due to leave or illness for more than 28 days, the matter shall be referred upwards within the Department or Division.

9. Decision

9.1 All requests must be properly considered. Managers must also ensure that where employees have caring responsibilities, or a disability that requires a reasonable adjustment, all reasonable avenues are explored in light of UCL’s responsibilities under the Equality Act. This may include consulting more widely to explore whether their needs could be accommodated by reallocating duties between staff.

9.2 Once the manager and the employee have discussed the request, the manager must notify the employee of the decision and confirm this in writing within two weeks following the date of the meeting , using either Part B (request accepted) or Part C (request rejected), of the Line Manager Decision Form.

10. Request Accepted

10.1 If a request is accepted, the decision form must include a description of the new working pattern, state the date from which the new working pattern is to take effect and be dated. The manager or staff member may propose a trial period in which to assess the new working arrangements and in this case, the length of the trial period and the method of evaluating its success, should be included in the notification.

10.2  All agreed changes to working hours or working patterns must be processed through MyHR using either Employee Self-Service (changes to working pattern) or Departmental Transactions (changes to FTE)

11. Request Rejected

11.1  If requests are not accepted, managers must ensure that this is because of one or more of the following statutory reasons:

  • The burden of additional costs (this may include accommodation or equipment or additional administration costs)

  • There will be a detrimental effect on the department's ability to meet the demands upon it

  • It is not possible to re-organise work amongst existing staff

  • The department will not be able to recruit additional staff

  • There will be a detrimental impact on quality

  • There will be a detrimental impact on performance

  • There will be insufficient work during the periods the employee proposes to work

  • There are planned organisational changes

11.2 Managers must also ensure that any grounds for refusal are based on facts rather than assumptions, and must be able to provide evidence if required.

11.3 Instead of refusing a request outright, managers should give consideration to alternatives to the working pattern that the employee has requested. For example, if an employee wants to work 3 days per week instead of 5, if it would be possible to offer 4 days per week, this should be discussed and offered to the employee as a compromise.

11.5 If a request is rejected, the decision form must:

i) State which of the statutory reasons at point 11.1 above apply in these circumstances

ii) Provide a sufficient explanation including examples or evidence, to demonstrate that the request has been properly considered

iii) Demonstrate that alternative proposals have been considered and put to the employee, if applicable.  

iv) Provide details of the employee's right to appeal, and be dated.

The manager must keep a copy of the decision form documenting that the request is rejected, and forward a copy to their HR Business Partner. The decision should be consistent with the discussion that has taken place during the meeting.

11.6 Where a request has been rejected based on departmental circumstances and those circumstances later change which allows more flexibility, managers should encourage employees to revisit their request via an informal discussion without the need to make another formal request.

12. Appeal

12.1 There is no legal right for an employee to appeal the decision about their flexible working request. However, UCL will permit an employee to appeal on one or more of the following grounds, and must be clearly set out in a letter:

i) The request was not handled in a reasonable manner, or was in breach of the Equality Act.

ii) The procedure was not followed correctly

iii) The application was rejected based on incorrect facts or information, or where there was a lack of evidence to support the decision

12.2 An appeal must be lodged within 14 days of receipt of the decision to reject the application. The employee must set out the grounds for their appeal in a dated letter to the Director of Employee Relations, Policy and Planning, via the Employee Relations Team.

12.3 Within 14 days of the Director of Employee Relations, Policy and Planning receiving the appeal, a meeting to hear the appeal will be arranged.

12.4 Meeting attendees will normally comprise of the employee and the following:

i)  An independent manager of the same or higher grade than the manager who originally dealt with the flexible working request, providing they have not previously been involved in the case and they have the authority and ability to overturn the original decision;

ii) An Employee Relations Manager, to ensure a fair process is carried out

iii) The employee’s chosen companion i.e. a trade union representative or work colleague.

12.5 The manager chairing the appeal may need to consult with another specialist member of staff or, for example a member of the Occupational Health Team if the case involves a reasonable adjustment or a medical issue.

12.6 If the employee’s companion is unable to attend, the employee can request a postponement. The meeting will be rescheduled within one week (where possible).  

12.7 It is not necessary for the original decision-making manager to attend the appeal hearing, but the appeal hearing manager may consult with them either before or after the meeting if they need to clarify anything.

However, they should be available on standby in the event that they need to be called into the meeting for any points of clarification. The employee should be consulted on whether they feel comfortable with the manager attending the appeal hearing.

12.8 Before confirming the outcome of the appeal, the manager hearing the appeal must consult with the relevant manager and discuss the proposed outcome.

12.9 The Employee Relations Manager will advise the employee of the decision of the appeal in writing, within 14 days of the appeal meeting.

13. Appeal Upheld

13.1 If the appeal is upheld the written decision must include a description of the new working pattern, state the date from which the new working pattern is to take effect, and be dated as per point 10 above. A copy of the notification will be held on the individual's HR file.

14. Appeal Refused

14.1 If the appeal is refused, the written decision must set out the reason for refusal in this case and provide a sufficient explanation of the grounds for the decision. A copy of the notification will be held on the individual's HR file and the Line Manager will be informed of the outcome. The Appeal Panel's decision shall be final.

It is not normally possible to make another flexible working request within the next 12 months, however if departmental circumstances change, please refer to point 11.6.

Appendix 2: a model flexi-time scheme

This flexible working hours scheme may be withdrawn, amended or suspended at any time with one month's notice, if they are considered to impact on the effectiveness of service provision.

  • Core hours 10.00 - 16.00 Hours may be worked 08.00 - 18.00 Telephones to be answered 09.00 - 17.30

  • Minimum 30 minutes lunch break.

  • Minimum 1 person covering the office/lab between 12.00 and 14.00. Staff will be responsible for arranging cover between 9am and 10am, 12 noon and 2pm, 4pm and 5.30pm ( Lunch can be taken between 12.00 - 14.00).

  • Times of arrival at work, lunch breaks and leaving work must be logged daily by the individual and will be countersigned by the manager/supervisor at the end of each week. February 2019

  • The monthly cycles will commence from

  • A maximum of 5 hours surplus or deficit may be carried over from week to week, subject to work demands. No hours may be carried over from one monthly cycle to the next.

  • Overtime will not usually be paid. Exceptionally, where approved in advance by the Head of department/Manager/Supervisor, the first five surplus hours will be paid at plain time and overtime rates will be paid for additional hours.

  • Periods of sickness or annual leave will be treated as a normal working day - 7 hours and 18 minutes for those working a 36.5 hour working week.

  • Medical appointments should be arranged in accordance with Policy on Leave for Domestic and Personal Reasons.

  • Time lost through transport delays will be made up by the individuals with few approved exceptions (such as transport strike days and exceptional weather conditions etc).

  • For health safety purposes staff should ensure that a colleague is aware when they leave the office for the day.

Associated documents