Let’s get flexible

Brightly colored drinking straws with flexible head
According to research released this week, 90 percent of UK businesses are open to flexible working, but only 25 percent say so in job adverts. With nearly 17 million people working part-time or wanting to work more flexibly, organisations are doing themselves and potential applicants a disservice by not being upfront.

A Flexible Future For Britain? has been published by Timewise, a social business and recruitment consultancy focused on part-time and flexible working, the research states that 8.2 million people already work 30 hours a week or less, but a further 8.7 million full-time workers would like to work flexibly, whether that’s shorter or compressed hours, job-sharing, working from home or other alternatives.

Flexible working is a subject close to my heart. The willingness of the council I work for to consider and agree to job-sharing has meant me being able to keep my career going while my children are small. When the post was advertised we could take our pick of quality applicants. It’s worked well so far, with benefits for all parties. I also have colleagues who work compressed hours, have reduced their hours in the lead-up to retirement or who regularly work from home: after all, with modern technology it’s easier than ever to work remotely.

Until now, anyone could ask their employer to work flexibly, but only employees caring for a child or adult had the legal right to request flexible working. This will change from 30 June, with all employees with 26 weeks service or more having the legal right to make a request. Organisations can still turn down requests if they have a good business reason. It’s great that the playing field is being levelled, but what about people applying for a new job or a promotion?

According to the Timewise survey, most managers are pleased to hear from potential candidates enquiring whether a post advertised as full-time could be worked flexibly; although 30 percent get annoyed and 10 percent consider their time is being wasted. Although a call at the start of the process must be better than having the conversation at interview stage, which 57 percent say is when it tends to be raised.

As you climb the career ladder, flexible working options also reduce. Surveyed managers were asked what kind of roles they’d consider advertising as having room for flexibility:

  • Junior: 43 percent
  • Manager: 30 percent
  • Director: 14 percent
  • Leadership: 9 percent
  • None: 21 percent

This is further underscored by the belief that flexible workers are less ambitious than full-timers, stated by 69 percent. But if flexible conditions are thinner on the ground at managerial level and above, how can the ambitious flexible worker move to the next stage of their career? It’s a vicious circle.

It would be great to see employers approach flexible working as an opportunity rather than a burden, and drop the assumption that it’s the choice of those lacking in ambition. Until they make a change to their thinking though, they’ll never know.

With the potential for all workers to ask for flexible working options, forward-thinking employers who put real time and thought into modernising their working arrangements could well find they can skim off the cream of the recruitment crop.

Creative Commons: Flexible drinking straws with flexible head by Horio Varlan on Flickr

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