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  • Writer's pictureAnya Smirnova

The missing link in flexible working

Updated: Apr 8, 2021

By law, all employees have the right to make a flexible working request if they’ve worked for the employer for at least 26 weeks, and employers must look at the request fairly.

Employers and in particular HR know about this. Talking to HR about flex work is like preaching to the converted: flexible working helps to hire and to retain the best talents.

Mums and dads are tempted to work flexibly. The pandemic has expanded the mindset on flexibility and remote working. Still, many working mums are convinced that flex work is not a possibility for them. It really makes me sad. These are some examples of concerns women share:

  • I don't have anyone in my team who is on a flexible schedule. I am glad to work from home while the pandemic lasts, I don't feel I can ask for more.

  • I asked for some flex work, but not what I ideally wanted. I just don't think my line manager would have accepted my real needs.

  • I work in a male-dominated industry and I have seen first hand how women who have tried flex work and job share have been negatively treated.

  • My bosses are C-level executives. When they want something they expect you to be there and available to them.

This happens in companies where HR and Recruitment teams are keen to build their diversity of employees in both gender and race. Good employers know that offering roles that fit flexibly around family life, opens the floodgates to a much wider pool of talent or retaining existing talent. A 2020 study by Zurich (a global insurance company), backed by the UK Government Behavioural Insights Team offers a glimpse of post-pandemic future if more employers promote flexible working hours. After offering all jobs as flexible, Zurich saw a 20% leap in women applying for senior roles and a double increase in job applications by both male and female applicants. In March 2021, the Minister for Women and Equalities called for flexible working to be offered as the default. So I've reached out to my community of working parents to conduct research on this and here are the results. My hypothesis was that there are three key players in negotiating flexible working:

  • Mum (by the way, flexible working is gender-inclusive and one does not have to be a parent or a carer),

  • her line manager, and

  • the company's HR,

and these three players make the corners of a triangle, with the sides of the triangle showing lines of communication - Mum to HR, Mum to line manager etc. If one of these communications is missing or malfunctioning, flexible working is not practically available in the organisation. I questioned each of these links to see what fears and powers each player has that affect the flexible working culture.

I asked people through social media and my subscribers to choose one of the following options in an anonymous questionnaire:

Who do you feel that you can have a candid conversation with?

  • HR yes + Manager yes

  • HR yes + Manager no

  • HR no + Manager yes

  • HR no + Manager no

Answers split equally between the first three options. Notably, nobody responded that they trust neither their HR nor their line manager. Since all respondents have at least one channel of a trustful relationship in their workplace, it made me wonder how much the person's old habits and beliefs keep her from enjoying flexible working?

You might like this article which busts the top seven myths of flexible working: Flexible working manual.




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