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Does flexible working create a career ghetto?

On paper flexible working should be the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow – a way to continue with your career whilst having a bit more weekend to spend with family or nurturing other interests – a win/win solution that gives your employer a motivated employee for a given amount of the working week and gives the employee flexibility, a chance to balance work and life but to still work and carry on with work interests

The problem is that whilst flexible working promises so much it doesn’t really deliver

Employers seem to do their level best to try and wiggle out of offering anything other than the Full Rat Race option – the first barrier to flexible working is that there are a myriad of reasons why an employer can say no and that even asking for flexible working can be met with the suggestion that you might like to be moved into a ‘safer’ job somewhere away from precious things like clients. My request to go down to 80% of my contract was initially met with the suggestion that I take myself away from the interesting work and into the career cul-de-sac of professional support – a dark corner of the office inhabited only by part time working mothers and given about as little respect as is possible whilst still staying just on the right side of the diversity policy

Even if you manage to persuade everyone that flexible working can work once you have got there a whole new set of issues start to arise – a 20% reduction in pay rarely equates to a 20% reduction in the sunk costs of employment (thank you train operating companies and inflexible childcare) meaning 20% off the topline is way more out of your monthly cashflow

And then there’s the fact that everyone starts to refer to you as a ‘part timer’ and suddenly it starts to feel as if you have taken a wrong turning and, despite working as hard as if not harder than your colleagues, you find yourself somehow finding yourself on a slower path, a different trajectory and getting work that isn’t quite as good as the full time lot

Maybe it is in your mind or maybe flexible working has put you in the box marked ‘not quite as good as the rest’

I don’t know

What I do know is that flexible working is often a rotten deal – I don’t know anyone who works a shorter week who gets left alone on their ‘off’ days and despite getting ribbed about not being there all the time there is no sense of boundaries about that time away from the office

Most of the flexible workers I know spend their working days rushing around, desperately trying to cram a full time job into part time hours with disproportionately less recognition

Is it time to start breaking down the walls around the part time ghetto?

Is it time for working fathers to start demanding the right to work 4 days and to have more time with their family?

Is it time for people to start asking for an extra day at the weekend to pursue other interests?

Is it time for flexibility to be the norm rather than the 9 to 5 presenteeism?

Is it time to make flexible working actually work rather than having something that looks and feels like the poor relation of a ‘proper’ job – surely until we do something to normalise flexible working it isn’t going to become mainstream and accepted – surely we need to be trying to create a world where there are equal numbers of part time working fathers and the men in our office realise that part time doesn’t mean less committed

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6 comments to Does flexible working create a career ghetto?

  • Really excellent post. Absolutely spot on, particularly about the presenteeism. Used to really wind me up when I worked 4 days, though I do have to say that my manager and employer were excellent and I still got career development, training and responsibility. I know not everyone does though.

  • Agree, and so much would be achieved if there was a culture change. But the 9-5 (and then some) is ingrained in so many companies. I got so fed up trying to squeeze five days in to three, I left and set up on my own!

  • Karen

    I wonder if this is worse is some industries than others? Many of my clients who are big multi-nationals offer a wide range of working options for everyone (not just mothers) including extended working hours, part-time, flexi-time etc. I don’t see a culture of presenteeism there, for many WFH flexible hours is the norm rather than unusual. Ernst and Young and Accenture offer flexible working to all their staff – not just women and its law now to offer to men with children under 17 flexible working if requested. I have to extremely hardcore with my clients though, when I’m off, I’m off – I don’t turn the phone on and I don’t respond to emails/calls to avoid confusion and setting up the idea I am available. Also companies need to be much better at support PT workers to scale down workloads around their days rather than expecting them to condense their work down. I feel quite positive about the changes I see around me – its a shame that it doesn’t seem to be a consistent change across all areas of work.

    • Hannah Brewer

      I think there are pockets of good practice and pockets of dinosaurs – trouble is if that even the visible people aren’t making progress then the next layer back will struggle too

      As you say, boundaries are everything, if you’re off, you’re off (and stopping blackberry creep too)

  • The fathers I know who have taken flexible working have found it very very difficult. What do you mean – men have parental responsibilities too?

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