I’m now officially in my mid to late ’30s. I was shocked to realise that I have been left school for over 20 years! I was born in the ’80s but grew up in the ’90s. My parents divorced in the part of the ’90s which saw my ‘homemaker’ Mum suddenly find herself a single parent, with bills, two children under ten and no income. It got me thinking about the pros and cons of flexible working.
Bless my Mum, she’d left school at a time when secondary moderns were at the forefront of education, and she left school with no qualifications. If you wanted flexible hours around school childcare (before the likes of after-school clubs), you worked in retail, care or cleaning. My Mum dabbled in all three pretty much most of my childhood, taking minimum wage jobs to feed us.
I grew up knowing that when it came to having my own family, I would have an education, work experience and career. I wanted to be able to offer my family yearly holidays, weekends by the sea and days out.
At the time of having my daughter in 2007, the rules concerning maternity leave, pay and rights were shifting. You could have a year off, nine months of ordinary leave and three months additional leave. It caused a lot of confusion at the time. Lots of my family members were telling me that I had to return to work or ‘payback my maternity pay’. But more parents were using child care, both parents were working and flexible working hours was something you could ‘apply for’.
It was new to so many employers that the lines were blurring between what was required and what wasn’t. It caused a lot of confusion myself included. I spent my maternity leave being underpaid due to an administration error. My HR manager at the time had to search the internet for my rights as I worked in a very male-dominated workforce, and there was no maternity policy!
Being Asked to Return to Work
I spent what should have been time enjoying my daughter, being pressured to return to work. I’d been off three months when the first email arrived. Office drama, new director, when was I thinking of returning? Geez, I don’t know in six months?! But it didn’t end there, and they piled on so much pressure that I gave in and returned when she was five months old. I wasn’t ready; there is a lot more to the story concerning my return. I will not bore you now! But I struggled majorly.
I remember at the time having coffee with friends who just weren’t able to return to work as they couldn’t afford the childcare and their rights to flexible working were declined. Employers couldn’t see the benefit of including part-time or flexible workers on their payroll.
Flexible Working Now
That was nearly 13 years ago, and I was shocked recently to learn that one of my friends took her employer to a tribunal because she requested flexible working hours and they didn’t deal with the request effectively. She won her case, but it surprised me that with so many families now having both parents working that employers can’t see the benefit of flexible working.
On googling ‘flexible working’, I received over 21k hits! Mostly negative. I thought I would share some of the reasons why I believe we could benefit from becoming a little more ‘flexible’. This covers remote staff, part-time, flexible full time and anything in between.
1. Family – No more taking unpaid leave, using up annual leave or making up hours, with a little flexibility in our working schedules we could take that gym class, attend our daughters’ assembly and collect them from school. Not only this but with organisation, employers would be able to make arrangements.
2. Increased feeling of personal control – The introduction of facetime, skype, emails and social media has meant that as individuals, we have communication on the go. This gives a bonus to being in control of our schedule. Meetings don’t have to be office based, a quick skype call, and this gives us added power over our work environment.
3. The Dreaded Commute – Avoids traffic and the stresses of commuting during rush hours. You know how it is, you rush out the door at 7.45 am makeup half done, coffee in hand while munching on a banana. You hit the main road and ‘boom’ a 30-minute commute turns into an hour. Working from home or starting at 10 am instead of 9 am means that you could be at your desk faster, logging on to those all-important tasks at 8.30 am.
4. Environmental Considerations – Reduced consumption of employee commuting time and fuel costs. With ‘eco-friendly’ being an essential part of the workplace, employees are being rewarded at some companies for car sharing. Perhaps the bigger picture is with effective management of employees that could work from home or come into work less.
5. Happy Employees are Productive Employees – We all want to enjoy our jobs, whether it be time away from the kids, to keep our skills relevant or to have adult conversations. An employee working 40 hours a week, with an hour, commute each way isn’t going to feel as empowered and productive as someone who works three days in the office, two days at home.
1. Team Environment – In team-oriented departments, teams still need to meet, which requires set guidelines. Some people take advantage of the flexibility and use that as an invitation to work from home, which means watch Netflix with their email screen open. There needs to be an extensive amount of trust, perhaps using a management board like ‘Trello’ for example, to keep staff motivated when not in the office.
2. Management Team – Some managers, who are used to seeing when their staff members come to work, watching what staff do all day at work, and knowing when people leave for home, have trouble adjusting to the new management style which requires trust. Hands-on managers (micromanaging) don’t adapt well to having employees away from the office; they often feel out of touch or struggle to keep track of their tasks.
3. Other Colleagues – Office-oriented people sometimes view their work-at-home colleagues as slackers because they can’t physically see their productivity. It is common for employees who work at home to be seen as less productive; this isn’t true always true. But I think internal employees often feel that they are sat at home wearing PJ’s, munching on popcorn while watching Netflix. This isn’t always the case.
4. Availability – Compressed workweeks can make client handovers complicated—clients expect service five days a week during business hours and can be fussy when an employee isn’t in on Friday. It can be challenging for clients to understand that at 2 pm, you suddenly become unavailable or that on a Monday you won’t answer their email. Some companies cope well with this by including an email footer.
5. Job Types – Not all jobs can be flexible. Jobs that require customer-facing responsibilities only allow certain types of flextime. Whole days working from home are not an option.
Overall, the advantages generally outweigh the disadvantages, and a good manager can handle the difficulties. Employees are keen to find employers who now offer more flexibility in their approach to work. If you would like further information, please check out Maternity Action. Who provides detailed advice on how to apply for flexible hours around childcare and parenting responsibilities.
We have a long way to go; perhaps you would like to share some of your thoughts? Maybe you are an employee who works with flexibility, or perhaps you want to?
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