Friday, 22 January 2016

Be flexible about flexibility

This week I contributed to a Guardian online live webchat Q&A on improving your work-life balance. It struck me that the vast majority of the questions people posted were on job flexibility: how to find it, how to ask for it and how to make it work once you have it. 

A flexible interesting job can seem like the Holy Grail if you're a working mother, enabling you to find time for both work and family with the stability of an employed role and without running yourself into the ground. Unsurprisingly, questions about how to work flexibly feature regularly in the conversations I have with women returning after a career break. 

I've found that many women get off on the wrong track. They translate a desire for flexible work into a rigid quest for a part-time job, 3 or 4 days per week. Yet if you just look at online part-time job ads, you're likely to get disillusioned very quickly. Of the 10,000+ 'family-friendly' jobs advertised on Mumsnet today there are only 37 in the part-time category, 12 of which have a >£30k salary. Timewise are doing their best to change this, but the numbers of higher-level part-time roles on their job board are still limited. 

This doesn't mean that flexibility doesn't exist at a more senior level, even in large corporates. In my conversations with organisations, I hear an increasing openness to flexible working and a recognition that many (if not most) of their more senior employees do work flexibility in some shape or form. But flexible rarely translates into 3 days part-time. In most cases, it's more about full-time hours, but with flexibility about where & when you do them.

Don't rule this out - considering flexible full-time jobs as an option will greatly increase the range of positions available to you, and many women have found the work-life balance they want in these type of roles.

Types of Flexibility

Here are some of the most common options; think whether any (alone or in combination) could create an attractive working pattern for you:

Typically this means that you choose when you start and end work. This can fit well with parents of school-age children wanting to make the school pick-up. One returning banker negotiated an 8.30-3.30 schedule for a senior wealth management role, where part-time work was seen as out of the question.

Working from home (remote working)
Increasing numbers of professional roles don't involve being in the office all the time, reducing commute time & meaning mothers no longer have to miss important school events. Kate, a lawyer and mum of four featured in our success stories, found a role with a public regulator which was mainly home-based. Even within large corporates, you may now be able to work from home on a regular basis (e.g. every Wednesday), or to find a company culture where the team works from home on an ad-hoc basis whenever this suits the individual and the business.

Compressed hours
You work your weekly hours by starting early and finishing late on 4 days to create one day off. This is more likely to suit you if you don't have young children, maybe if you want to continue to have time for voluntary work, hobbies or other activities.

Extended holiday leave
It's not only in the education sector where you can enjoy extended time off to manage the school holidays. In the web chat the HR Director from Deloitte said that they had introduced Time Out, where employees can request an unpaid block of 4 weeks leave each year. Taking unpaid leave can suit the business too if summer is a quieter period for them. If the lost salary is a problem, look for companies who allow you to accrue leave from overtime to use as 'time off in lieu' when you want it. 

Finding a flexible role

Finding a flexible job is more about learning about company culture and effective negotiation than combing the online job boards. Timewise research in 2015 reported that only 6.2% of UK roles over £20k salary are advertised as flexible. However they have also found that 91% of managers are willing to discuss flexible working possibilities during the recruitment process. See our previous post for advice on negotiating flexibility.

And if you still see part-time work as the ultimate goal, remember that once you're in a company it's much easier to develop all forms of flexible working schedule (helped by the new right to request flexible working legislation). Most of the senior professionals featured in Timewise's Power Part Time List didn't start in part-time roles but reduced their hours once they were established and could make the business case for doing so.

See also previous post: How do I find a high level flexible role?

Posted by Julianne

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