Helen Letchfield is the co-founder of Parenting for Professionals. Helen supports employees through parenthood with coaching, workshops, presentations and online learning. She guides us through your choices in this step by step guide to flexible working.
Should I reduce my hours, work from home, do a job-share, work a 9-day fortnight, do compressed hours or work school-term only..?
A few years ago, after returning to work following my maternity leave, I knew I wanted to get a good work/family balance, so I decided to ask for a 3-day week. My request was signed off and I was delighted! Looking back, I don’t think I put much thought or preparation into this life-changing event, and, judging from the requests for help I now get professionally about flexible working, many others feel the same. So, if you are considering making a change to your working pattern, read my quick guide to the good bits and the bad bits about working flexibly:
(Please see https://www.gov.uk/flexible-working/overview for more information.)
- Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs
- Anyone can ask their employer to work flexibly
- Employees who care for someone (e.g. a child or adult) have the legal right to ask for flexible working
Who wants to work flexibly?
Dispel the myth: it’s not just women coming back from maternity leave who would like to work more flexibly. It’s also dads; as well as men and women who are looking for a better balance. It’s also those who hold senior and leadership positions. I have also met people who have worked in their companies for 20-30 years and who now need to take some time out to take care of an aging or ill relative.
Why work flexibly?
For many, the combination of parenting and full-time work isn’t feasible. This could be due to lack of support at home, overly complicated logistics, family values, stress levels, personal priorities. For others, a health scare, caring responsibilities, a desire to just ‘do something different’ or spend more time with loved ones are all reasons for wanting to reduce hours at work.
What are the hard bits?
Getting your application agreed to in the first instance may pose the first problem
In order to apply for flexible working, a specific procedure needs to be followed. Every case is reviewed objectively, and with the business needs in mind. Many applications do not get signed off so it’s important to manage your own expectations. Find out from HR what your internal procedure is.
Cultural as well as self-induced pressure can play havoc with your confidence as you get used to a new flexible working pattern
Pressure to work longer hours/all night/come in at weekends is often a sign of ‘achievement’ in some corporate cultures. Thankfully, many companies are now realising how much more productive and creative their staff can be when they are given flexibility to work in a way which also allows them to be healthy and happy.
The image of the part-time worker is still generally negative
You’ll have to work even harder to meet or exceed your objectives. You’ll often be told you have to ‘work smarter’ – and it’s true. I found that being tight on deliverables and working hard on my visibility so you get appreciated by the right people at the right time was more important than it was when I was full-time. Some people in your team, other teams, your manager or other senior managers may feel differently about your position if they have a negative mind set around part-timers. Spending time on building good relationships will help.
And the good bits?
“…Providing you have set yourself up correctly, the benefits of flexibly working far outweigh the difficulties. Ensure you have clear objectives, a supportive team/manager and a desire and enthusiasm to achieve and perform on fewer hours.
If you have all of these, you will be rewarded with a happier work/life balance, a healthier you and a happier family…”
Last year, the FT reported the benefits of flexible working to both businesses and employees. O2 in particular, following the Olympics, reported that when their employees worked flexibly, they were more productive and felt happier.
Personally, as a new parent going back to work, I felt that my choice to work 3 days a week helped me to slowly reintegrate back into the corporate world after having had 10 months immersed in ‘babyland’. It also enabled me to very firmly keep my foot in the door – had I not been able to reduce my hours I would have given up the corporate world, which would have had a detrimental impact on my longer term career prospects. It also gave me breathing space to come to terms with the guilt I felt for leaving a tiny baby in childcare.
Everyone’s situation is very different and not everyone’s role will be suited to flexible working, but certainly for me, the benefits far outweighed the negatives. Do you know anyone who is working flexibly? Find out how it’s working out for them!