A recent CIPD report estimated that 54% of workers in the UK work flexibly in some way, but there is still a lot of unmet demand with 68% of workers stating that they would like to work flexibly in a way that is not currently available. But why not?
Flexibility seems to continue to be challenge for a number of industries and employers. Being able to truly offer flexible and agile roles is the stated ambition for many but unfortunately the implementation is more difficult.
The reason that we – Natalie founder of Elevate Leaders and Louise founder of Daisy Chain – are coming together to write this is that we are both two examples of making flexible working work for us and doing so with enthusiasm, even if we do say so ourselves!
Let’s start with me (Louise!). I started Daisy Chain in 2017 after working in recruitment. I saw first-hand how many (mainly) mums were missing out of great jobs because the employers just weren’t taking their needs into consideration, mostly around childcare. Not only was this unfair, it just didn’t make sense! What if employers were a bit more flexible in their approach towards working parents? Just think of the talent they would retain!
So, after the birth of my daughter, Daisy (and yes, Daisy Chain is named after her) I decided to take the plunge and launch Daisy Chain. And it’s been quite a ride!
Apart from placing mums and dads with family-friendly employers across a wide range of industries, we have supported events run by leading lights for flexible working, Pregnant then Screwed and Mother Pukka (AKA Anna Whitehouse) together banging the drum for making flexible working the norm.
I am pleased to say, but not surprised, that the people we are placing and the companies we are placing them with are more than happy. The feedback we have received is that for those working flexible hours, the productivity levels are high and commitment more so.
Let’s be honest here. We’ve all worked / are working the Monday – Friday, 9-5. Can we honestly say we work solidly in those allotted hours? Can we honestly say that we even do 70%? Being present and visible at a desk with a computer in front of you doesn’t mean you’re being productive. And to be fair, it’s pretty old hat.
I would love to name and shame the employers that still think like this, but I will let their lack of staff retention, staff wellbeing and happiness do the talking there.
The fact is that there are so many talented individuals out there that, for one reason or another, want to work flexible hours. It’s not restricted just to parents, a lot of people, especially the younger generation, are demanding a fair work/life balance and the ‘work to live’ thinking as opposed to ‘live to work’ definitely takes precedent.
I want my Daisy to grow up in a world of equal opportunity, where she will look back on the current situation with disbelief. And I am proud beyond belief to be part of a movement that is pushing for a flexible future.
Now over to Natalie – hi!
Flexible working for me is about empowerment and treating people as adults. My working patterns have changed constantly as my family commitments, health and life stage changes too, as happens to everyone.
I worked intense hours for 15 years until I was 35 when I had my second baby. At this point I decided to change my contract to four days a week so not working on a Wednesday. However, as is so common, the workload didn’t shift – I ended up pulling a late shift on a Tuesday and Wednesday evening to cover everything but get paid a day less.
After about two years on a 80% contract, I decided to flex again (taking one day off a fortnight) as the balance felt better - there was more give and take between us. I think this attitude to give and take between employers and employees is crucial – it’s a 2 way street and communication is key.
And then I was presented with an opportunity or window to leave and set-up my own business. I loved the corporate world but I wanted to put my passion for people to practice own so I set up Elevate Leaders 18 months ago and work every day – some days more intensely than others, sometimes at weekends but equally have the flexibility not to work in the week if I need to be around for the boys.
Ultimately, employers need to recognise that in order to fully engage and retain their talent, they need to acknowledge and understand the whole person. Whether that's if you want to take Fridays off to volunteer, need to start at 11am on Mondays because you travel to see your boyfriend at weekends or need to take a five week break to care for a relative; it actually doesn't matter the reason and there is no hierarchy on valid reasons.
This is why Daisy Chain is such an important vehicle for championing flex roles and bringing those companies and industries into the future of work. And this is why I am dedicated to working with people who want to work flexibly and navigating with them how they can do that. The future is definitely flexible!
So how do you broach the topic of flexible working?
When you’re in full time work, asking for flexible working to suit your life balance can seem daunting, especially if you’re leading the path or flying the solo flag for the cause.
What’s worth always remembering though is that you are fully within your rights to ask for flexible working as long as you’ve been employed in your current role for 26 weeks.
The onus is also on your employer to fully understand what flexible working is, the parameters and what they offer as a business. If they don’t know, you need to make sure they find out and talk to them when they do.
Do check out tips on how to ask for Flexible Working below courtesy of Daisy Chain.
Really know what you’re asking for.
Go in with a structured plan and stick to it. For example, if you’re wanting to condense your hours to have a Friday off, work out exactly what this looks like. Do you take 30minutes lunch break instead of an hour each day, for example. What are the new hours you are proposing?
Are you looking to share a role with someone else in a similar position? If so, get your proposal straight in terms of hours, salary, commitment and workload so that you can present it to your employer in a solution-focused way.
When some employers hear the words ‘flexible working’, they automatically associate that with reduced productivity, time out the office and an impact on their commercial outcome.
All of this as we know isn’t accurate but in order to manage these worries, try and pre-empt them and have solutions ready for your employer.
Reassure them that even if your hours are less, the output won’t be (put it in a spreadsheet if necessary), that you time in the office will be nothing but productive and that you are dedicated to your role and the company.
The people in charge want to feel reassured and don’t want to ever regret the decision to allow for flexible working. If – hopefully – this practice is already happening in your workplace and it’s working well, reference it and praise them for championing this way of working.
Point out the benefits
There’s no harm in massaging their ego slightly and saying that you are proud to work for an organization that is championing flexible working and that you are banging their drum in your circles as a forward-thinking employer.
Do your research and reference other leading business examples from all over the world where flexible working is succeeding and ensure you point out that they are part of this leading worldwide need and expectation.
Remember why you’re asking for it
Always keep the reason you’re asking for flexible working at the forefront of your mind. It might be to help with childcare, to save costs or to just give you a better work/life balance – whatever it is, know that this is the overriding reason you are in that office, having that conversation. And keep strong! You’ve got this!
Please do get in touch with both of us if we can help you work more flexibly.