That tends to be my response to most things in life: the perm (1980s), Vodka RedBull (1990s), travelling the world to find myself (the noughties), getting married and settling down (2010) and more recently motherhood (2014).
No-one could ever say I was a planner. From the Clear Blue stick to the baby shower, I went careering into motherhood with little thought for anything beyond my maternity leave.
They pass round the brown envelope and shower us with gifts when we go on maternity leave, they send flowers and coo over our new arrival when we bring our new-borns into the office. But despite gargantuan leaps in technology that make it possible for office work to be done anywhere, anytime, most requests for flexible work are turned down because businesses are still employing people on a working week that was defined in the industrial revolution nearly 300 years ago: 9-5, in an office, 5 days a week.
A recent study by Timewise found that 9 in 10 people want to find flexible work. That kind of demand has to bring about change, but the pace feels glacial, and especially when less than 10% of all jobs advertised mention any kind of flexibility.
Careering ahead no, but change is happening
Some employers are embracing new ways of working, and thanks to the work of the brilliant Karen Mattison and her team at Timewise, they are highlighting the companies that do it well through their Power Part-Timers campaign.
When the Chief Operating Officer at EY says: “Flexible working is a game changer for us in attracting and retaining talent,” you know that the best employers are waking up to the genuinely talented people they just cannot access if they don’t offer flexibility.
International companies need less convincing, because they already have employees who work across different timezones and from different offices, so not seeing all your employees at their desks each morning is less frightening for them.
But for other employers we need to prove that it is possible to build productive relationships with colleagues and get the job done in the time we have available. Which, after all, is what the pay cheque is for: output, not input.
Not fast enough
For every company championing its Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) policy, there are 999 line managers shuddering in the corner and breaking into a cold sweat because not everyone works on a Friday or can be there every night until 6.
D&I policies are great. As are companies who are keen to help women get back to work and offer returnships or have family-friendly policies… and there genuinely are lots of them out there. But if you want one of those highly-prized, flexible jobs, that can seem as rare as one of Willie Wonka’s golden tickets, you need to think differently about your job search.
Traditional job boards and recruiters are out. Working your network, spring cleaning your CV and becoming a LinkedIn networking demon, are all in.
And if you’re asking an employer to offer flexibility, you have to be prepared to offer the same in return. Very few jobs can be done 3 days a week, because you’re dealing with clients, colleagues and the big wide world that is on almost 24/7. So broaden your perspective about what you may be able to offer an employer.
There are LOADS of different ways to work it these days.
- Early start and early finish
- 3 days over 4 or 4 days spread over 5 (this way your employer has the comfort of knowing you’ll be available each work day but you’re doing shorter hours AND importantly, they’re only paying you for the pro-rata time).
- Annualised hours where you work a certain number of hours over the whole year. It means you can scale up the hours when the business needs it but scale back when you can’t be in the office. There is normally a set of core hours that you’d work each week but it gives both sides flexibility.
- Job-share; still not very common but I firmly believe it’s the best solution for both employer and employee. They get two brains handling the same number of problems. Job shares are not well-understood by most recruiters, they have to work twice as hard and find two people one job and so it rarely gets over the line. But if you can find a partner through someone like Ginibee, don’t be afraid to apply jointly for a full-time job.
And so the list goes on.
Do your research on the company as well. Most companies have openly published their D&I policies – see what they say about gender balance and flexible working, and use it in your covering letter.
Oh yes, the covering letter. They are a dying tradition but when you’re looking to set yourself apart, they are an opportunity to show your express interest in that company, that job and prove you’ve read the job description.
The main thing is to start the conversation with the time you can give them, not what you cannot.
It’s highly unlikely that they’ll have even considered anything other than 5 days a week in their office, so don’t start from the position of “I am looking to do this job on 3,” it just isn’t going to work.
Be prepared to negotiate and see it as the start of a dialogue rather than an ultimatum.
Founder of Careering into Motherhood
March 1, 2018