At 3pm yesterday I braved the autumn cold to watch my son play in an Under 9s football match. I am one of the lucky ones, it was a Monday and I work flexibly. You may imagine I was alone, a solo cheerer gripped to my stryofoam coffee cup, but I was not. So now you’d be forgiven again for assuming, it was the stay at home mums brigade that stood beside me willing on the almost nine-year olds to pass the ball, get in position or save a goal, but you’re wrong again. My fellow supporters, on the first day of the week, at a mid-afternoon kick off, included a female, successful business owner of a nationwide crisp brand, a part-time counsellor and qualified lawyer, a senior nurse and mum of three, a flexible worker of a family run farm business and a dad who gave up the nine to five to pursue a dream to work in the record business.  United we stand as proof that flexible working is a decision for not just part-time, low paid jobs but to successful careers and for making work, work for you. So, it was with interest that I read that the demand for flexible working is on the up and it’s not just mum’s that are calling the shots either.

What workers want:

Research by flexible working experts, Timewise, has revealed that almost nine in ten or 87% of the UK’s full-time workforce either currently work flexibly or would like to do so. The emphasis on the ‘would like to do so’ is the sad part of all this, particularly in a world where technology enables many to work remotely and at home.

The report, Flexible Working: A Talent Imperative shows that of the 3000 Brits polled over half, 63% of permanent full-time workers now work flexibly in some way, and of those who don’t, nearly two thirds, 64% would prefer to. So, it’s not all bad news for those that have achieved an enviable work life balance but a staggering one in four, a quarter of all full-time workers would specifically prefer to work part-time for part-time wages if it did not affect their pay per hour or career progression. The stigma that asking for a flexible work pattern is tantamount to career suicide is still strongly felt. I feel this is particularly relevant in the city and the professional services where the widely held belief is that part-time working or working from home is only for mums with young children. I know many dads that wouldn’t dare to put their necks on the line to ask for a more flexible solution even though they too have young children that they would love to see play football or sing in a music concert.

The fascinating part of all this is that the gap between men and women for those wanting to call the shots on their working timetable is closing. The report shows a strong preference for non-traditional working patterns from both male (84%) and female (91%) full time workers. The report doesn’t detail, however, how many of the men that would love to work flexibly have discussed this with their boss and I would predict that if that were measured the gap would start to widen again.

It is perhaps unsurprising that it is the younger generation that is leading the charge too. More than seven in ten or 73% of those aged 18 to 34 who are working full time, do so flexibly.

Why do workers want to call the shots?

It’s not hard to see why workers want more flexible working. Of course, there is the family cohort who rely on flexibility to manage the school run and children. Help with caring for children and other dependents was similarly important for 18 to 34-year olds (33%) as those aged 35 to 54 (28%). We can’t put the demand just down to the need to wipe babies’ bottoms and help with homework because over half, 57% said their key reason was that it allowed more control over work/life balance. It’s the, ‘just because I do’ reason. The, ‘I have one life and work is not the most important thing in it,’. In essence, we’re no longer as accepting as the Victorians that we go to school, get a job for life and have a few years on the state before we die. Workers want to devote more time to leisure and study, this is particularly felt amongst 18-34-year olds (37%) and also among those aged 55+ (32%). Of course, the middle agers are not keen on the tiresome commute and would like to spend less time pressed against someone’s armpit on a crowded train (37% of 35 to 54-year olds).

What bosses’ say:

Commenting, Karen Mattison MBE, Timewise Joint CEO said: “The fact that flexible working has been seen as a women’s issue has not done women or businesses any favours. Today’s new research shows once and for all that flexible working is a preferred way of working for both men and women at all stages of their working lives. Today’s workforce not only want it, but they expect it. It’s time for businesses to get smarter and use flexibility as a tool to attract and keep the best people. Those who lag behind in adapting how they hire, will risk losing out on millions of skilled workers.”

I know that when I work, I work hard. I don’t have time to have a productivity lull. I believe I offer my clients value for money because I appreciate the flexibility to work where and when I want. So, I’ll continue to brush shoulders with my flexible working friends on a Monday in the cold, at the side of our sons’ football pitch because we want more from work than just a salary, we want to control when and where we work too. Sorry but that’s it, full stop and, I salute the men that want that too and are clearly making it work because presenteeism is the disease of the work weary and flexibility is the friend of the future generation.

Author: Annie Hayes

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