Can flexible working ever be truly flexible?

What is the definition of flexible working? I’m sure if you asked 100 people you would probably get 100 different answers.

That’s because fitting your work around your life – and vice versa – is a different juggling exercise for each of us. Whatever your situation and commitments, we all have things that crop up which impact on our working day, be that the dog, the dentist or the doctor.

Then there’s the constant conundrum of what to do with the children, whose six hour school day doesn’t marry up with the average eight hour working day.

Trying to overlay a rigid working pattern on top of all of the above is where the problems occur.

Legislation exists which allows employees to formally request flexible working, and that’s surely a good thing. But making a request is no small undertaking – your written application has to include details of the change, what effect you think the change could have on the business, how the business could handle that change, and a statement that you have made a statutory request.

The request then has to be considered by management in a similarly formal – and onerous – manner. Hardly a situation that naturally lends itself to trust and co-operation, and no wonder then that people often feel they would be ‘making a fuss’ in putting in an application at all.

Recent steps by institutions such as police forces to encourage remote working can only help to change a culture of ingrained presenteeism. Technology has been updated, which means officers can now update paperwork and manage crimes away from a desk, so there’s no need to be in the office.

But is the attitude toward flexibility keeping pace with advancements in technology? The opportunity is there, but it is individual managers who give the authority, meaning one person’s accepted level of flexible working, and trust in their staff, will be different to another.

Then there’s the guilt factor. While a company and its managers may offer true flexibility, in a small team, for one employee to take advantage may mean leaving another to man the fort.

As an agency, Zen fully embraces the idea of flexible working, and recognises people are individuals who have lives outside of work. We operate a 7am to 6pm working day, with the team working hours to suit. Parents’ evenings or school concerts are sacrosanct and working from home when needed is a given.

Referring to the definition of flexibility – being easily modified, or a willingness to change and compromise – for it to be a success in the workplace, it needs to be adopted wholly, or not at all, and reviewed and changed over time, in conjunction with the employee and their individual needs.

Compromise is key when it comes to encouraging a flexible approach to work, and one size can never fit all.


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