Let’s Bend Over Backwards to Embrace Flexible Working

By Melissa Jackson

The benefits of flexible working have been tried, tested and championed during the Covid pandemic, but not all companies are embracing its potential, it seems. A survey suggests that 50% of women would quit their job if it didn’t offer flexible working. However, for some, broaching the subject with an employer can be a difficult conversation. But, difficult conversations should not be swerved if we are to bring about change that benefits not just women, but all sectors of the workforce.

When young mother Alice Thompson raised the question of flexible working, as she prepared to return to work after maternity leave, she met a brick wall. As a sales manager at a small London estate agent, she had invested her “heart and soul” in her career and wanted to return to the office with hours that were more compatible with family life. Her reasonable request, in my eyes, was to ask to work a four-day-week and to leave at 5pm each day instead of 6pm. But it was denied. Alice hit the headlines recently after taking the company to a tribunal and winning a £185,000 pay-out, but it was an “exhausting” battle that exposed the ugly face of sex discrimination.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, “If they needed me for the full hours, maybe eight ’til five instead of nine ’til six, that’s something I could have worked around.

“But it was shut down, every avenue, not listened to, not considered. And I was left with no other option but to resign.

“How are mums meant to have careers and families? It’s 2021 not 1971.”

Fair point.

A survey by Marie Claire magazine and LinkedIn found that 50% of women would quit an existing job and 52% would turn down a job offer if the company didn’t include the flexible working they required to maintain a work/life balance.

Andrea Thompson, Editor-in-Chief of Marie Claire, said: “The latest research is that employers must acknowledge that flexibility is vital if they want to retain female talent and achieve genuine gender equality at work.

“Equality in the workplace can only happen when flexibility is perceived as something for all – women, men, parents and non-parents. Why should caring responsibilities be a concern solely for women?”

Of course, flexible working opportunities should be open to all. This way it will become standardised and less of a “big deal” to accommodate; and the “difficult conversation” … a difficult conversation no more.

According to the flexible working consultancy, Timewise, 78% of UK job ads make no reference to flexible working. Timewise CEO Melissa Jamieson lamented that “thousands of women get stuck in jobs that are beneath their level of skill and ability, because these are the only kinds of role they can find with the flexibility they need”.

In other words, flexibility with boundaries.

So, what are your rights when it comes to flexible working?

All employees who have been with a firm for at least 26 weeks have the right to make a flexible working request

If you make a request, your employer must consider if fairly and make a decision within a maximum of three months

A flexible working request could involve shorter hours, different start and finish times, a job share or doing your hours over fewer days (compressed hours).

It’s been widely documented that a flexible work environment attracts and retains the best staff. So, be bold and if flexible working is your goal, feel empowered, engineer that discussion and highlight the benefits it will bring to the company and to you. Who knows, you might start a long-overdue revolution in the workplace and do yourself and all your colleagues a favour.

For more thought-provoking reading from Melissa, take a look at Are We Being Cowards If We Don’t Speak Out?