Aside from the legal requirements to consider and respond to requests for flexible working in the UK, why would you want to think about the idea at all? The subject is often discussed as something that could benefit working mothers and rarely seems to extend beyond that. With a shift towards more men sharing work and parenthood, it can be seen as benefiting parents of both genders. Cue much eye-rolling and feelings of unfairness from other employees, who see parents leaving early to pick up little Bobby from the childminder, while they work late – again – to finish a piece of work.
Does flexible working have to be a divisive topic? Of course not. Flexible working can benefit all employees, regardless of why they want to flex their hours, and in turn can benefit businesses as employee engagement and wellness increase.
Let’s get one thing clear – flexible working does not have to mean fewer working hours. It can also mean the same hours but at different times. If you want to request part-time work or job-sharing, don’t confuse these as being the only options for flexible working. So, regardless of your interests or commitments outside of work, perhaps you could spare a minute to consider what flexible working might mean for you.
For one person I worked with, it meant being able to start and finish earlier, to be able to meet commitments as a Scout Leader. For another, it was about being able to adjust starting time or condense his hours on some days to finish early on others, to enable him to help on his farm at certain times of the year. A third was able to start and finish later, to avoid rush-hour crowds when returning to work after a hip-replacement operation, rather than spending more time at home recuperating. Someone else, a keen surfer, was able to get some time on the waves after work, having arranged an earlier start time. Another arranged to work their full week in four long days, so they could commit one day a week to a local hospice for terminally-ill children. Engagement of all these people with their employers was high – they felt like they mattered as people and that they were seen as something more than just a resource. Not to mention that by doing something they enjoyed, they had that extra bit of happiness in their lives that stayed with them at work, regardless of the deadlines and pressures.
Take another view. Who absolutely loves spending additional time on their daily journey to and from work because it has to be at that awful time of day, the rush hour? I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever known enthuse about it, can you? So imagine if companies took a different view and instead of the 9-5, worked within 6-8. (That’s 6am to 8pm, by the way!) Or 7-7, or any other variation that means people are allowed to be at work between those hours, instead of being held to a tradition that comes from past practise. Think about the impact that could have on the road and train networks. For some, it may mean a vast saving between peak and off-peak train ticket prices as well.
Then there’s the question of working from home or other locations. People who travel as part of their job are used to working on the go, from airport lounges, on trains, in hotels and conference rooms. Some companies still insist that those people must be in an office, working the standard hours, when they are back in their home country. More forward-thinking companies don’t, instead realising that those employees already give up a lot of personal time by not being able to go home every night or every weekend, and so allow them the flexibility to work from home. This can make the difference between ever being able to read bedtime stories to young children or going for a good work-out in the gym at a time that suits them, and so much more.
Obviously not all roles suit flexible working options, neither should anyone assume that everybody would want to work flexibly if they were given the option, so I’m not suggesting you make a sweeping gesture of introducing the idea to everyone in your company. However, ways of working continue to change and employee expectations are certainly set to keep challenging us, so if you want to remain competitive and attractive as an employer, this may be one area you want to reconsider and trial from time to time, until you find the solution that works for you.