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Flexible working: it’s not just for mums

Author:

Max Drinan

Published On:

April 8, 2024

Published In:

PR & Communications

Flexible working: it’s not just for mums

Flexible working just got a lot easier in the UK. From April 6th 2024, employees have the legal right to make flexible working requests from the first day of their job, down from the 26 weeks of employment that was previously required. As for employers, they now have two months to make a decision, and a rejection must be backed up with evidence that the request clashes with one of eight business reasons.

As public opinion and employment law move towards ever greater flexibility, much of the focus has been on the positive impact on parents juggling commitments to their children and their careers. And with women still being the primary caregivers in most households — including caring for adults — flexible working policies can help redress ongoing gender imbalances in career progression.

Despite parents — especially mothers — being the primary benefactors of the new flexible norm, everyone should be able to shape a job around their individual needs and preferences, particularly those who are often disadvantaged by established workplace structures.

The CIPD’s ‘Neuroinclusion at work report’ found that flexible working “was the practice found to have the most positive impact on organisation-level and people management-related outcomes” for neurodiverse employees, while Business in the Community found that Black, Asian, Mixed Race and other ethnically diverse people are more likely to leave a job due to inflexibility.

Then there’s me. Parenthood, caregiving, neurodiversity, or race are not workplace factors I can speak on with authority. In fact, on paper, I’m the ideal candidate for the typical 9-to-5. Yet flexible working has been revelatory for my well-being and my entire outlook on full-time work.

My midweek “firebreak” against burnout

I work alongside many parents at GingerMay, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the company was built to address the difficulties they face in many workplaces. After all, it was the tension between family life and work that led CEO Victoria Usher to found GingerMay, with flexibility embedded at its core. Today, the success of this model can be seen just by glancing at our office rota, where there are as many different schedules across the team as there are days of the week.

While making work more accommodating for parents was the impetus for the company’s flexibility, the benefits extend to everyone. I’m able-bodied, conduct most of my work remotely, have no health conditions that affect my ability to follow a standard 9-to-5 and — other than a needy pet parakeet — I have no dependents. If flexible working requests were judged solely on need, I’d come up short. 

In my case, my flexible working request was a simple matter of energy. I like to work at an intense pace — a side effect of years of self-employment — but sustaining that focus for five days straight proved challenging. Every week I’d start off strong, but by Friday I was depleted, and the weekends weren’t filling my tank.

I wasn’t burned out, but I was definitely getting a little charred at the edges. Workload wasn’t the issue, so my line manager and I threw a lot of ideas at the wall to see what would stick until we landed on splitting the week in two. Wednesday would serve as a burnout “firebreak”, allowing me to keep working at the pace I enjoyed while giving me a break to recover. In short: work hard, rest hard.

After making my case and conducting a trial period to hammer out any kinks, I’ve stuck with the same schedule ever since and it’s been entirely uncontroversial. I work the same volume of hours overall but perform better across them, and have the comfort of knowing that no matter how intimidating my to-do list might look, I’m never more than two days away from a break.

The business sense of flexibility

For GingerMay, a concrete benefit of their flexible working policy is that I’m here writing this blog instead of looking for greener pastures. Had I been unable to adjust my schedule, returning to my prior life as a freelancer where I chose how my hours were distributed would have been tempting. Instead, I’m enjoying a role that offers the best of both worlds: the stability and professional development opportunities of employment with the flexibility of freelancing. 

Flexibility goes both ways, too. Anyone working in a client-serving role knows that plans can and do change at short notice. While Wednesdays off is my default schedule, this can be shuffled around if needed to ensure uninterrupted service for our clients. As long as the work is done and I hit my hours, no one’s particularly fussed about how my time is distributed.  

This mutual respect should be a lesson for all employers out there. People want to do good work, and no one knows more about how they work best than the worker themselves. By providing space for people to mould their work around their lives and experiment with their schedules to find the right balance, they’ll do better work for the same salary.

Should the employee’s circumstances change, they can adjust again and stay in the role (the revised flexible working law locks in a minimum of two requests per year), while the company can keep organisational knowledge intact instead of churning through talent that would stay if given the choice.

And for employees, now that the law is on your side from day one, flexible working is a matter of “don’t ask, don’t get”. Of course, that’s simplifying workplace dynamics that can complicate the “ask”, or demanding roles that can obstruct the “get”, but the burden of proof for why a request can’t be approved is on the employer’s side.

It’s time to relegate the 9-to-5 to the industrial era it was born in, and recognise that quality of time rather than quantity of time is a far better metric for gauging the value of the work we do and when we do it. 

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