Sally Clare

Removing the Stigma: Flexible Working Requests (Part 3)

Sally Clare

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My Family Care asks Sally: Flexible working seems to be the way of the future, but how are companies dealing with requests and what advice do you have for others who want to work flexibly?


61% of women want flexible working

In our "Why Women Leave Business" survey, we found that 61% of the women surveyed would like to work flexibly. The top three reasons given for this were:

  1. Family commitments
  2. Work/life balance
  3. Because they were more productive when working from home.

Companies are positively adapting to the increased awareness of flexible working and most have polices in place, with some larger organisations having agile working for all; only 18% of the Professional and Financial Services businesses we surveyed do not offer flexible working. We advise businesses to really try and accommodate all flexible working requests.

Cultural change needed

The main issue, I believe, is less about how companies deal with flexible working, but more about removing the stigma attached to it. Too often, flexible working results in a career penalty and this needs to change.

As soon as you ask to work flexibly, it is often perceived that you are "sacrificing" your career to have a better work/life balance. In businesses renowned for long hours, even leaving on time can call into question your commitment to the job.

Lots of businesses have a culture of presenteeism, where your dedication to your role and career is measured by your time in the office, rather than how productive you are. These types of companies tend not to lend themselves to flexible working, resulting in individuals leaving to join more agile businesses. This too could be contributing to a lack of women progressing to senior levels.

Men and senior leaders - paving the way

There is also a stereotype that it is only women with children who want to work flexibly, which - in this modern day - is not the case. More men should be able, and encouraged, to adopt flexible working arrangements and businesses need to be more open about how their employees in senior positions are working flexibly in order to make it acceptable for the rest of the business to do so.

Businesses need to remove the negativity around flexible working to allow them to really move forward.

The solution

So what can businesses do to remove the stigma?

  • Profile senior leaders who are working flexibly;
  • Promote people who work on a part-time basis to send a message to the business that you can still be effective and progress when working flexibly;
  • Promote agile working options, including:

- Flexible hours - shifting hours to suit your day,

- Working remotely/from home,

- Compressed hours,

- Adapting the office space to suit individuals - quiet pods, tech areas etc.

  • Encourage the management team to work flexibly as it sets a positive precedent. Some businesses are encouraging their employees to work from home once a week or fortnight, and senior leaders must take part in order to show their employees that it is ok for them to do this too.

How to broach a request

Asking about flexible working is daunting for many reasons, and we recommend that you approach the situation in the same way you would approach any business issue:

  • Before the meeting, outline the reasons why you want to work, and the different ways in which you could work, flexibly. Look to others around the business who are working in an agile way and ask them how they make it work. Also ask them what advice they would give you - these real life case studies can be invaluable.
  • Write a list of the changes that working flexibly may have on your role, your team and your clients. Once you have done this, look to see how these changes can be mitigated, and how both you and the business could work better together to ensure that the transition towards working more flexibly is as smooth as possible.
  • You must also keep in mind that you need to be prepared to be open to different options as the way you may want to work flexibly might not work for the company in the first instance. Compromise may be required.
  • Make sure you give the person you are speaking with sufficient notice that you want to talk to them about flexible working. This allows them time to think about it, prepare themselves and potentially get the information they believe might be useful. Often, if you raise the matter without fair warning, the knee-jerk reaction is to reject it before it has been fairly considered.

Sally Clare, Head of Diversity Services, Ambition+

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