What is Flexible Working and is it Achievable?

I recently visited a good friend and former colleague and her gorgeous new-born, and we had an enlightened discussion about flexible working and what it meant to us. 

In the past year we had both left large companies where we had senior roles that required lots of national travel and long hours, it was interesting how we both had offset these unrelenting demands of our employers with the flexibility of being able on occasion to work from home and balance the demands of home life with our jobs.

However, given the reality of no longer doing those job roles that were just like the roles that had gone in the 10 years before we were starting to develop a new perspective on flexible working. My own view now heavily influenced by the rise of mum entrepreneurs, growth in locally based SMEs that could benefit from my corporate skills and insights and the want to be there for the school run and taekwondo lessons.

Gov UK describes flexible working as “a way of working that suits an employee’s needs”; in the formal statutory setting this could mean home working or condensed hours of work. All employees who have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks have the legal right to request flexible working and it’s not just limited to parents or carers. Employers then must deal with the request in a reasonable manner looking at the advantages and disadvantages of an application, hold a meeting to review the request and offer an appeals process. This does not mean that an employer can’t refuse an application, but they must have a good business reason for doing so or risk an employee escalating matters to an external mediator and ultimately an employment tribunal.

In my experience as a senior HR professional I have been presented with a lot of business reasons for not approving a request for flexible working, in the main they were reactive, inflexible and unreasonable. The challenge is in breaking those objections down in to realistic commercially sound pros and cons and off-setting them with beneficial alternatives that add value to the business in various ways whether it be a more diverse and varied workforce, an engaged, committed and happy team etc. There will be times where no matter how hard an employer try’s they can’t accommodate the request for legitimate business reasons, but these should be few and far between.

In summing up the reality is flexible working means different things to different people, it can be achievable and in addition beneficial to the employer as well as the employee. 

If you yourself are seeking a more flexible way of working and can’t find it don’t be defeated reconsider your career, move to an employer who embraces flexible working or take the leap of faith I have and set up your business.