Due to UCU strike the deadline has been further extended: please send your proposal and costs to Acas by 27th March 2022

Call for separate proposals to: (i) support a new programme of Acas research on the use of workplace formal procedures; (ii) undertake organisational case studies on flexible working practices.

Call 1: Formal Procedures

Acas wishes to begin a new programme of work on the handling of disciplinaries and grievances at work. We want to find out how organisations approach these matters, including the handling of suspensions and investigations.

We have a good body of evidence on early approaches to conflict resolution inside the workplace. We are grateful to colleagues at UCLAN, Sheffield, Plymouth, Cardiff and Westminster who, for more than a decade, have collaborated with us on this work (e.g. https://www.acas.org.uk/research-and-commentary). This work continues for instance in the development of a new training product on management practices funded through the ESRC Management Practices and Productivity Programme, and we will continue to invest in this area and reflect on how this learning can be applied in Acas services.

This call for evidence focuses on the ‘formal’ element of dispute resolution inside the workplace: how complaints from employees are handled and how managers address concerns around significant absences, behaviours, performance or capability. It therefore complements our work on early interventions in conflict. In some instances, the management of these situations will be prescribed through procedures, in others it will be determined by custom and practice.

We wish to know:

  • more on the relationship between formal and informal procedures;
  • the use of workplace policies and reference to Acas Code and advice;
  • practices used, motivations, experiences and costs;
  • outcomes, impacts on all parties involved and effects on broader employment relations outcomes; and
  • sectoral approaches to managing conflict through procedures.

We welcome proposals for studies as part of this new programme, drawing on a range of methods to understand this important area of workplace practice, including: opportunities for secondary analysis of quantitative data and innovative approaches using qualitative methods; and any review of existing evidence which gives rise to suggested lines of enquiry.

In Spring 2022 we will publish findings of a qualitative study on approaches to conflict management in SMEs.

This new research will be used by Acas to:

  1. build an evidence base to inform public policy and debate in this area; and
  2. impact workplace behaviour by informing Acas products and services and in particular Acas guidance.

We anticipate that this programme will run across a number of years, and seek individual proposals to address specific areas of enquiry.

Call 2: Flexible Working

Acas is seeking expressions of interest to undertake a research project to understand organisational approaches to flexible working. We are particularly interested in exploring awareness, use and handling of statutory and non-statutory requests.

Flexible working is a key element of the current political, policy, economic and social agenda. This is reinforced by the drive towards homeworking in some sectors of the economy as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. While there is evidence showing a growing interest in a hybrid working model, availability and uptake of other forms of flexible working, such as part-time working, remain low. Less is known about the use of non-statutory flexible working procedures and ad-hoc, informal arrangements.

Acas has amassed a good body of evidence in recent years on flexible working, notably:

Acas wishes to build on the findings of our latest discussion paper, Beyond hybrid: the current state of flexible working (2021), which focused on the statutory right to request flexible working. We would like to commission a series of written case studies which capture the views of senior leaders/HR, managers and individuals on the following areas:

  • understanding of flexible working, including the statutory right to request;
  • approach to flexible working within the organisation, including policies, use of statutory versus non-statutory procedures, and prevalence of different forms of flexible working; and
  • line managers’ handling of statutory and non-statutory flexible working requests, including the procedure and the decision-making process; how individual concerns are addressed; sources of information and support; good practice and barriers; and approaches to requests for ad hoc, informal flexibility.

We anticipate a total of three case studies preferably across different sectors. We would be open to exploring alternative proposals.

The research will be used in two ways by Acas, to:

  1. widen Acas’s understanding of the topic in order to promote debate, generate thought leadership and commentary, and influence government and stakeholder policy thinking; and
  2. inform behaviour inside the workplace via Acas’s written non-statutory guidance and in the longer term Acas’s statutory Code of Practice on handling flexible working requests, alongside our external training and Acas helpline advice.

We therefore expect to use the output arising from this work to raise Acas’s profile in this subject area as well as to add to our evidence base.

Outputs for both areas of enquiry

The outputs will be published on the Acas website in our Research and Commentary Papers series (https://www.acas.org.uk/research-and-commentary). We would also be supportive of parallel publication within academic literature.

Tender selection

We welcome applications from individuals, single establishments, or collaborations across multiple institutions or agencies.

These programmes of work are being managed jointly by the Acas policy and research teams. We ask that bids contain proposals for accessing research participants. In some instances, Acas colleagues may play a role in the conduct of aspects of the research and this can lead to co-ownership of outputs. In all instances, we anticipate close working on the design of projects and outputs. Our funding contribution for a single project will be capped at a maximum of £20,000 which we cannot exceed.

We may consider staggering the commissioning of individual projects.

Applications (in the form of written, short proposals) will be considered and scored on the basis of the merits and credentials of proposals received. Additionally, all bids should signal their agreement to Acas’s standard terms and conditions.  We welcome more than one proposal if you have more than one suggestion for research.

If you are interested in working with Acas and carrying out research in this area, please email research@acas.org.uk stating your interests. We will then provide details of how to apply (including scoring criteria for bids and a copy of Acas’ standard short form terms and conditions of contract). If you would like a conversation in advance of submitting a proposal, let us know via the email address above or contact Dr James Chandler (jchandler@acas.org.uk).

The deadline for receipt of proposals is 27th March 2022.