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Flexible working should be for the many, not the few

Forget the misconception that flexible working is a benefit reserved only for the career mum. The working practice should be extended to all employees and discussed early on in the hiring process in order to attract and retain talent

Flexible working is by no means a new concept. Yet despite the UK government introducing legislation a year ago to make flexible working a reality for all, there’s a general perception that it largely benefits the career mum looking to juggle work and home life. While many sectors have become more open to embracing flexible working, having a frank discussion with potential new joiners about whether this working practice caters to their needs doesn’t seem to factor into the hiring process.

If the benefits of flexible working are widely known, then why aren't we encouraging all employees to take advantage, regardless of gender or seniority? As the retirement age increases we risk workers suffering from corporate burnout by perpetuating the 'working harder means working longer' stereotype.

We all have personal commitments and situations that are important and unique to us. If we choose to we should all be able to shift our normal working patterns, work from home, or even book doctor’s appointments within working hours. Instead of working harder and longer we need to be working smarter, and that means being flexible to the needs of employees and ensuring they are as productive as they can possibly be. For this to happen there needs to be a shift in the perception of flexible working.

How do we break the stereotypes? One way is by addressing the tough love mentality some businesses allow to dominate working culture. Nobody likes to be told to ‘man up’ or ‘power through’, people are unique individuals who have their limits, not machines with no emotion. I’ve witnessed many male colleagues over the years sit and ‘tough it out’ simply because they believe they have to. Yet men have exactly the same needs as women when it comes to achieving some sort of work/life balance – 'suffering in silence' and toughing out the nine to five slog is a misguided show of strength that needs to be reassessed.

In addition, encouraging flexibility from the point of hire is crucial to maintaining a productive, motivated and happy workforce, as well as attracting and retaining talent. According to the Timewise Flexible Jobs Index only 6.2% of UK job adverts actually mention or offer flexible working as a benefit. Instead of asking new employees how they want to work and building a role that suits them, staff feel like they need to ‘do their time’ before they can consider asking for an altered working pattern, which only perpetuates the flexible working misconceptions of having to work later or have a ‘serious’ commitment in order to be afforded the opportunity.

Flexible working can benefit any employee. While some sectors will require workers to be physically present in order to go about their day-to-day tasks, performance is based on skill rather than geographical location. With a good broadband connection, phone line and computer people can be empowered to perform anywhere. Requesting time off to accommodate a longer appointment, or asking to work from home shouldn’t be seen as a weakness or an inconvenience. Instead it’s indicative of an employee who knows how and when they work best, and employers should be nurturing this commendable self-awareness to best effect.

Narelle Morrison is managing director at Babel PR