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Who’s afraid of flexible working?


According to a research report by Flexecutive, in spite of clear and present demand for flexible working practices (in all the myriad of forms that currently exist as well as those that have yet to be invented), the actual take-up is poor. This is especially true of middle and senior managers who are still disciples of the cult of presenteeism, and which is a disturbing trend, given the clear need for flexible working and their unambiguous business benefits.

Although the overwhelming majority of people in two core professional groups report a strong desire for flexible working and better work-life balance, they fear that it will severely undermine their career development. Flexible working is perceived by many as leading to career death. And this research suggests that this is not an organisational myth – career death is, for many, a fact of flexible working.

Although professionals work within a knowledge and output based environment, yet most in this survey are still experiencing a largely traditional working pattern. Despite the high priority and publicity given to flexible working over the past five years, the way in which we work has not evolved to anything like the same extent as have markets, customers and technology.

Main findings

– The majority, both male and female, want greater flexibility in the way they work. However most currently still report working to traditional patterns.

– Individuals are able to give a wide range of positive reasons for why they want this, including work-life balance, reducing travel time, and improving health and fitness.

– There is a majority in marketing and a large proportion in HR who are currently experiencing difficulty in these areas of their life and are not satisfied with their work-life balance.

– There are very few gender differences in this research. Men report a higher level of dissatisfaction with the amount of time that they get to spend with their families than do their female counterparts. And while both men and women take-up full-time flexible roles, reduced or part-time roles are still considerably less likely to be taken-up by men.

– Career progression emerged as a major barrier to the achievement of flexible working. The vast majority (81%) believe that it would negatively impact their careers

– In order to change this perception, an integrated, holistic programme of culture change is required that directly impacts performance management, succession planning and other core career development processes.

Would flexible working hold back you career development? Post your comments below.

5 Responses

  1. Flexible hours
    I am fortunate enough to have flexible working hours as an IT trainer/ co-ordinator

    Flexible hours mean that I too have to be flexible when the boss requires my assistance at some ungodly hour or if he wants me to work on the weekend.

    If I have to work late, it is expected that I would arrive at work later than normal.

    In very rare cases, it is expected that I will travel from working at home and arrive at work in emergencies.

    This has meant that I have been able to attend funerals, collect my parents from the airport and attend dental appointments honestly, without using sick days. I always work later on those days to recoup the hours that I have missed.

    Flexible working hours are a grey area. It is a two way street. If you can cope with the inconsistency it does work well.


    If I travel interstate, I usually work from home the next day because I am usually exhausted.

    I gain two hours extra each day that I work from home because of the lack of commuting.

    Training manuals are easier to write free from distraction.

    I always achieve more in a day when I work from home.


    One of my team members does not have flexible hours because his position relies on him being onsite at all times. This created an uncomfortable atmosphere until his managers explained that unfortunately they cannot make his position flexible.

    With a young family, I have to be very disciplined not to take too many breaks and play with my son!

    You are more accountable when you have flexible working hours because everyone is watching your hours and what you produce.

  2. Rhetoric and reality of flexible working
    The research results are not particulary suprising. The demand for flexible working is high but the culture of many organisations does not promote it as anything more than a concession for certain groups of employees silently understood to be women with childcare responsibilities. Staff who work flexibly are generally better managers in terms of time, people and communications. They are better planners because they have to be. Work cultures dominated by outdated full time practices of long hours, exclusive communication networks, patrician presenteeism
    and crises management, unfortuantely, are stil the norm in the UK. The flexible worker is tolerated, but not seen as part of the ‘normal’ working culture.

    Is there are connection between the relatively poor productivity rates in the UK (compared with much of Europe) and the way we design work?

  3. Do jobs get advertised? It isn’t easy to do and it’s difficult t
    I am now in a position to take up a very flexible working pattern having arranged my life to do so. However tonight I have spent two hours on the internet trying to find out about the possibilities for interim and temporary positions. I have been completely unsuccessful.
    So is this just me being incompetent at using the net or are there actually places advertising these sorts of posts? I am not an executive or a manager which seems to be the focus for this kind of recruitment.
    One thing I do know is that it is incredibly hard to move from the safety and security of a conventional style job, even if you are very unhappy or dissatisfied with it. The relentless demands of mortgage, children, lifestyle and habit are deeprooted and not easily challenged.
    Finally I have also found that actually living a life based on this different way of earning a living is demanding in totally different ways to those I expected. For instance I thought I would be well motivated to work but I have found I am extremely well motivated to take holidays. when there is a degree of freedom to choose holidays win out every time.
    So the moral of this contribution is – expect a far reaching change in your life if you take this route, because freedom gets to the parts other things don’t reach!

  4. I’m surprised anyone still considers this an issue
    Employees have made it clear that flexible working is the *most* valued benefit a company can offer — and it doesn’t have to cost a penny.

    It’s clear that the meaning of flexible working has changed considerably since it meant time off for new parents. These days the main benficiaries of flex working are professionals who have the proven self-discipline and knowledge to work from home (because it is less stressful and time-consuming than commuting) and to work the hours they find convenient.

    Companies who don’t offer this benefit won’t be able to attract talent in the future. And side-lining talented employees because they’re not in sight is a good way to lose them.

    I’ve seen no evidence that flex workers are less often promoted than 9-5 office workers. On the contrary, in my high-tech field if you can’t prove that you can work without supervision (or supervise without staff being in your sight), you’re probably not suitable for promotion.

  5. Flexible working is preferable but limiting
    I have taken the opportunity to work from home following my daughter starting school. While the two children were under 4 years nursery provision, whilst costly and unsupported by tax breaks, was able to offer 8am to 6pm which most often met requirements. School hours and even after school clubs often do not.

    My company, Myrick Training Services, based in Mid Wales, has clearly supported my working from home which is 65 miles away in Worcestershire. Together we developed work opportunities to allow us to carry on our work contract together. The job is both exciting and balanced and flexible enough to explore work options that will fit into our arrangement.

    However I have worked in two blue chip companies and I was unable to make any arrangements whilst in a managerial position to even flex my hours to suit my family. I am however sure that in the past 3 years since leaving that they will have made headway in changing culture and developng opportunities to retain people more successfully. A career which I lived for has passed me by and even today when I see these two companies I wish that things had been different because of how much pleasure I had working with them.

    However, putting the career on hold is prefereable to the stress created by trying to juggle child care.

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