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Flexible working is a must have

Diane Hall


Classic alarm clock showing time during working hours or work break in business office, selective focus

A recent survey by Ernst & Young showed that more than half of respondents would consider leaving a company if flexible working wasn’t an option.

Of course, whether you can work remotely largely depends on the nature of your job. However, if there is scope for work to be done from home (lockdowns highlighted the true feasibility of remote roles, rather than simply the say-so of management), employees want to be given the choice.

The research stated that older employees were less likely to take their bat home if their application to work flexibly wasn’t granted; in comparison, however, there was much less loyalty shown by millennials, who would be twice as likely to quit their job rather than feel chained to a desk in the shared workspace.

Also highlighted was the sense that our working culture has changed because of the pandemic. I agree with this. Work is much more fluid, in terms of when and where it can be done. Working hours may spread into the weekend or evenings, if necessary, to free up hours in the daytime for other commitments, for example—however, encroachment into the hours that lay past the traditional 9-5 should be at the employee’s discretion, rather than their employer’s.

The world is open 24/7. Technology allows us to work 24/7, should we so desire. We can do almost anything at any time, so why should our work be any different? Boxing all our working hours into the 9-5, Monday to Friday, does seem a bit dated nowadays.

I described in this article how fluid my working life really is, given that I have numerous jobs and a business to run. This helps me stay interested in my work as my boredom threshold is very low…I really don’t think I coulddo the Mon-Fri 9-5, for the same employer at least. It makes complete sense to me that my work revolves around things going on in my personal life, and vice versa. I’m so lucky to have bosses/organisations that value my work and don’t mind a little shimmying around in relation to when they see me that week, or a cut in hours one day because I’ve to be somewhere else, hours that I make up another time. To me, this is ‘flexibility’, it’s not just about working remotely (I do work from home occasionally, and I probably could work from home if I really, really wanted to on a more permanent basis, I’m just more productive around other people and I enjoy banter with colleagues).

Young flexible worker business woman remote working sitting bar drinking water

Young flexible worker business woman remote working sitting bar drinking water

Flexibility can take on many forms. Some people like to work a four-day week so that they can carry out their life admin on the fifth day and enjoy their weekend without any guilt that they should be doing something else. Some people ask for flexibility in terms of start and finish times, so that they can do the school run. When my kids were young, this was important to me and my husband, which is why he worked full-time nights and I worked part-time days; it meant one of us could always take/pick up our daughters. Families do what they have to do, but it’s much more helpful if their employer is flexible, too.

The culture also seems to have changed in terms of productivity—which is great news. I’ve always been an advocate of output versus hours worked. I remember working for a company two decades ago that took me on as a part-time administrator for 18.5 hours each week. I spent half of these hours twiddling my thumbs, and though I could have busied myself for the remainder, I had a small baby at home and didn’t see the point of wasting time I could have otherwise spent with her. I approached my boss and explained the situation and asked to do 10 hours a week, a request that my boss granted—after all, he was saving money on his wages bill for the same results. Though my income was less as a result of this move, I valued my time with my daughter more (the baby years don’t last very long at all). Nowadays, of course, some employers would put their money where their mouth is and pay the 18.5 hours even if I got the job done in 10, but these were different times.

I consider my request for flexibility back then as being granted—it helped my individual situation and allowed me to dictate when I wanted to work. My boss appreciated my honesty and valued what I brought to the role, and we worked together for a good few years.

Employers will be able to suss out quite quickly if you’re an employee who’s likely to take the mickey versus one that’s loyal and committed. Whilst employees have the legal right to ask for flexible working, it’s not a given right, and employers can refuse. However, if you’ve proven yourself in the job and there’s no business case that insists you work set hours or at a set workplace, your request will likely be granted.

These changes of attitude are good things to come out of the pandemic, and they’re much more conducive to how we live our lives in 2022.

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