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So, you got flexible working after returning from maternity leave, but now you want to progress your career? How do you go about arguing for flexible working from day one in a new job?
Some organisations explicitly advertise that they are open to flexible working for new posts, understanding that if they don’t they could miss out on a large talent pool. Working Families has a tagline it encourages family friendly employers to adopt – Happy to talk flexible working.
Other employers have gone further. Lloyds Banking Group recently launched its agile hiring programme under which managers who advertise vacancies are challenged if no flexibility is included in the job description and have to give a good business rationale to explain why. Lloyds says that this means there is more buy-in for agile working from managers and potential employees know that they don’t have to have that awkward conversation about flexible working at interview. The overall aim is to create a culture shift and to normalise flexible working from recruitment onwards.
Nevertheless, many employers are still not advertising flexible jobs and the onus is then on the employee to bring up the issue before, at or after the interview.
Under flexible working legislation, employers only have to look at flexible working requests after an employee has been in the job for 26 weeks. This was established because it was thought it would give employers enough time to get to know the employee and build the trust necessary to let them work flexibly. Progressive employers argue that flexible working is much more accepted now, that not hiring flexible workers means they are missing out on skilled individuals and that if the employer doesn’t trust their employee why are they hiring them in the first place.
But how do you make the case for flexible hours from day one if a job is not advertised as being open to flexibility?
When to bring up flexible working in the recruitment process can be a different call, but if it is a deal breaker, it is important to do so, although not as your number one question and be prepared to negotiate.
Under flexible working legislation, applicants now have to explain how they think flexible working might affect their employer and how this could be dealt with. It is a good idea when approaching flexible working to show that you have thought about how it might work in the new post.
It is important to methodically think through the tasks a job involves and whether they can be done differently, from a different location, at different times and so forth.
It is also good to have a compromise solution, since the flexible working process is a negotiation. It may be, for instance, that with some homeworking a person who requests part time could work full time, or that they could work less at certain less busy times of the year.
Before all of that, though, do your research on the organisation and check out its policy and practice around flexible working. It might have good policies, but simply not have thought through advertising this in job postings.
There are a number of awards which highlight companies who are family friendly, flexible or support agile working. Don’t just look to see whether they have a flexible working policy. Check whether they actively promote flexible working, for instance, they may have profiles on their website of staff who work flexibly. Look at start-ups which often have a more open attitude to flexible working because they may be looking for people on a less than full-time basis as they grow.
Also check out websites that specialise in advertising flexible roles like Workingmums.co.uk. Even if the employers on them don’t advertise roles with the precise flexibility you want, they will be more open to talking about flexibility. Some employers specifically say that a job can be done flexibly or as a job share.
Top tips for negotiating flexible working
– Think through the tasks a job involves and make a good business case for working flexibly
– Research some case studies, ideally in your sector, that show how the work pattern you are suggesting can work to both the employer and employee’s advantage.
– Have a compromise solution as a back-up.