Or not Monday to Friday, anyway.
Legislation is a funny old thing. Sometimes capable of driving societal or behavioural change. Sometimes leading to unintended consequences. Often, taking us part of the way towards the change that we wish to see (Equal Pay Act anyone?).
When it comes to flexible working, legislation created boxes. Firstly, a box for the parents of young children. Followed later by one for carers of near relatives with a disability. These are the categories to which you initially needed to belong before you could make a formal request.
A step forward for those groups who badly needed these rights. But a potential closed door for everyone else. It was all too easy to refer back to a policy that shows you aren’t eligible.
Fortunately, a couple of years ago we made a change and opened it up to all. Anyone with 26 weeks’ service can make a request to work flexibly, and have it reasonably considered.
Recently, I became one of those people.
For the first time ever in my working life, I am not ‘full time’. I’m working four days a week, as I complete my Personal Trainer qualification. It has been…… an experience. One on which I am still reflecting.
Even though I have a boss who is very flexible, I will admit to still feeling awkward asking the question. Would it make me look less committed? Would it impact my job, my team, my ability to get stuff done? What would people in the organisation think? Would I have to be labelled with the description ‘part time’? Because I don’t do part of anything.
I badly needed this period of flexibility. Balancing full time work, volunteer work, family, training for endurance events and an intensive distance learning course wasn’t ever going to add up into the average week. But I didn’t need it perhaps like a carer of someone with a disability needs it. I didn’t perhaps need it like a mum with young children needs it. For me, this was a short term lifestyle choice. But it has been so, so welcome.
A day when I don’t fight the clock. A day for learning, practice and reflection. A day without the Pavlovian response to the sound of the email notification. Quite simply, without this flexibility from my employer, I would not have been able to pursue a personal dream.
And as for the day job…. It is still getting done. All of it. I take the odd call, respond to an urgent email on my day off. I change the days around as and when I need to. No deadlines have yet been missed. All the people stuff is carrying on regardless when I am not there. I’m not as tired at work or at home from trying to do everything. I am, dare I say it… engaged.
I’ll be back in the office most days in a month or two, hopefully with a whole new qualification to call my own, with learning that whilst it might not seem so at first glance is relevant to the work that I do. And I hope too that maybe I have sat a new example along the way.
To HR professionals I would say this:
Do people at your place, outside of the boxes, feel like they can ask for flexible working?
If they do, how well will it be received?
I am an example that flexible working is for anyone, everyone. You don’t know who might just really need it, or be secretly desiring it. The evidence says that more people want it than get it. It is a big opportunity, perhaps the biggest you have right now, for the retention, engagement and retention of talent.
So how can you make it more normal, at your place?