Let’s Talk About Flex, Baby: Flex Appeal and #BeBoldForChange

07 Mar 2017 | 6 min read

This International Women’s Day we join voices across the country and world, including many of our clients and customers, in the combined quest to forge a more inclusive and more gender equal working world.

Our people related focus on the Future of Law blog this month continues our examination of flexible working in the legal industry. This is not a new phenomena - we profiled innovative firm Halebury back in 2014 when the right to request flexible working became widespread* - but one that is an important part of the puzzle to crack if we are to succeed in a more inclusive and gender equal working world. We talk a lot about law firms, but today we are talking about you, the individual, the employee, the person, the human, which is why we approached law student turned copywriter turned campaigner Anna Whitehouse about her Flex Appeal campaign.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working is allowing employees greater choice over when and where they work.

“Flexible working doesn’t mean working less or slacking off, it means finding hours that suit your life and how you best work. If that happens to be sitting below strip lighting, so be it. But if you’re most productive working from bed/a park/the local library, employers should have the imagination to allow that to happen. And it’s not just an issue for parents, either…It’s one of the few issues that both the unionists of the TUC and the employers at the CBI agree on: flexible working is better for staff, and it’s better for profits.”

Anna Whitehouse, Flex Appeal

It doesn't have to involve working from home although often the desire for flexibility comes from spending too much time commuting and the emphasis employers place on presenteeism.

"In most roles that involve sitting at a desk (and that’s a good 80% of them in the UK), it makes no odds whether you write your report at 6am, lunchtime, or midnight. And even in those desk jobs that demand rapid responses, it rarely makes any difference whether you send that response from your sofa, or perched in front of your assigned piece of laminated MDF. But it can make a lot of difference to you."

Only a 'women's issue' though?

It is a fundamental misunderstanding that ‘flexible working’ is a women’s issue. It is not. In 2016 following The Law Society’s International Women’s Day event we wrote “flexible working needs to be embraced by men as well as women, and needs not to be seen by management as a working mum’s issue” . The fact that it is not a women's issue whilst still acknowledging that working parents are the largest group affected by a lack of flexible working should be possible.

"This isn’t about ‘mummies wanting to spend more time with their little ones’. This is about women being pushed out of careers they’ve fought hard for because they happened to become a parent. This is ultimately about businesses losing out; losing a pool of extraordinary talent because they fear releasing people from the shackles of 9-5."

Flexible working is good for employers and it is good for employees.

In their 2016 global survey Flexible: friend or foe? Vodafone reported that:

  • 61 per cent of respondents said their company’s profits increased;
  • 83 per cent reported an improvement in productivity;
  • 58 per cent believed that flexible working policies had a positive impact on their organisation’s reputation; and
  • 76% of businesses with flexible working in place have seen improvements in staff morale.

Every employee in the UK with more than six months in their job has the right to request flexible working*.

And yet, companies are losing talented employees by failing to offer real flexible working, citing issues such as it being too expensive, “we’d have to do it for everyone” or it is too difficult to manage – whilst legally after 6 months employment every employee in the UK has the right to request flexible working, the business is not obliged to accept the request, only consider it.

"Flexible working simply stops praising folk for sitting on chairs and applauds them for getting [stuff] done. Companies need to see this as a business issue, not just a HR issue."

Offer your employer a business case for flexible working

  • Attract talent
  • Retain talent
  • Improve productivity
  • Improve organization’s reputation
  • Improve staff morale

The Flex Appeal campaign looked at some of the most common reasons why requests for flexible working were turned down, then asked the experts how to handle those objections. Here are two of their responses with options, split into the quietly human (the As), the stat-tastic (Bs), and the Flex Appeal suggested outright bolshie options (Cs). Click here to read more...

If we did it for you, we’d have to do it for everyone

A: The business case is different each time and you’re under no obligation to give it to everyone. In my case, I want flexible working to succeed enough to make sure it does.

B: Great, you’ll become a much more attractive employer. Some 30% of the UK’s working population (8.7 million people) wants flexible working but doesn’t have it, yet only 6% of advertised jobs with a salary above £20,000 actually offer it.

C: Good. You’ll have a happier workforce and earn more money. Now fetch your diary.

You’ll be less productive

A: I think the reverse is true. I want this to work, so will make sure that my productivity doesn’t suffer.

B: In a survey of 2,200 businesses in the UK, 81% of senior managers said flexible working improves productivity. A global survey of 20,000 business found that 72% of businesses reported increased productivity as a direct result of flexible working.

C: You know what makes me unproductive? Not seeing my kid. Why not see what I can do when my mind’s really on the job.

"This is not a 'mummy issue', it's a people issue. 88% of millennials seek flexible work over empty add-ons like craft beer on tap and pool tables. A happier, healthier workforce is a more productive one. Ultimately this is about getting more from people, not less."

Find out more

*Subscribers to LexisPSL Employment can read more details on the specifics/entitlement to request Flexible Working in our Practice Note here (If you are not a subscriber you can take a free trial to access here)

Filed Under: Diversity

Area of Interest