Highlighting different ways to work flexibly

The Women’s Business Council has published 100 case studies of individuals who work flexibly.

Flexible Working Hours

Flexible working could help to reduce the rising employee absence trend

The Women’s Business Council has released a report which comprises 100 case studies of men and women who work flexibly in a bid to encourage employers to be more creative.

The report, 100 ways to work flexibly, showcases the myriad of flexible, dynamic and agile working patterns that can help make work life balance possible.

At the launch of the report, Dame Cilla Snowball, chair of the Women’s Business Council, said there was increasing demand for flexible working, but the number of flexible jobs available did not meet the demand. Bosses were overwhelmingly in favour of flexible working and so were both male and female employees. “Our hypothesis was that imagination is lacking, not motivation,” said Dame Cilla.

She added that the 100 examples of real people working flexibly were intended to stimulate ideas and creativity. They covered all types of flexible working. The case studies are from all over the UK, are working at all levels and are motivated to work flexibly for a range of reasons, from caring responsibilities to skills development.

Baroness Susan Williams, Minister for Equalities, said the report could help to normalise flexible working and showed employers how they could make it work. Sharing examples of best practice helped to ensure no-one would get left behind, she said.

Relatable role models

A panel discussion followed, led by incoming WBC chair, Fiona Dawson, Global President, Mars Food, Drinks and Multisales. Dawson said it was important to provide relatable role models telling their real life stories about how they had progressed their careers while juggling other priorities. ”We can’t always have it all, but having a choice about how we do it is important,” she said.

The panel consisted of Roger White, CEO of Greggs, Hilary Spencer, Director of the Government Equalities Office, and Hero Brown, founder of Muddy Stilettos, a lifestyle site for affluent women living outside London.

White said  the obstacles to greater flexible working were not practical, but cultural. Associations of flexible working with career compromise could put men off asking for different working patterns, he said. More examples of career progression with flex were needed.

He lives in Berkshire and commutes to Greggs’ head office in Newcastle on Tyne three days a week. That helps to counter a culture of presenteeism, he said. He also spoke about jobs that might be more difficult with regard to flexible working, like sandwich making and customer-facing roles. Greggs tried to make these work on a local basis, for example, by encouraging flexible approaches to part-time working which meant people helped each other out in the case of family emergencies and other circumstances. This had increased retention.

White was keen to tackle the issue of progression, but said it was often associated with relocating to be nearer head office, which could be difficult for some workers, particularly those with caring responsibilities. He added that more needed to be done to reward line managers for encouraging flexible working, saying it should be a core competency in management evaluations.

Hilary Spencer said flexible working was often associated with part-time working and part-time jobs often didn’t lead to progression. Part-time working could help people stay in work which could boost their confidence, but flexible working such as remote working, compressed hours and flexi hours were vital for progression to the next level, although she also mentioned how job shares were helping people work reduced hours in senior roles in the civil service. Progression should not just be based on working 80-hour weeks in the office, she said.

Hero Brown spoke about how she had set up her business on a flexible basis around her three children. The business had grown organically and had kept that flexibility as it grew. Everyone was in on a Monday, but worked from home on a Friday. No-one missed a school assembly. This has meant high retention rates, she says, and it has meant she has been able to hire highly experienced workers.

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