Get a life, get a flexi-life

Flexible working is the buzz phrase of the 21st Century. Lisa Freedman discovers how taking control of your office hours could put the balance back into your life.

Workplace psychologists say that the more fulfilled we are in our jobs, the better we will be able to deal with stress. Yet, many of us find that the long hours and endless demands of our working lives leave us under pressure and, well, stressed out.

If you are someone who never seems to have enough time to spend with your family or friends, who would like to pursue a hobby, a degree or devote some energy to the community, now may be the time to look for a more flexible approach to your working life.

The new workforce

Luckily for you, the new millennium is the ideal time to start your quest. In the modern working world, the demands of employers are increasingly dovetailing with their employees’ desire to break out of the old nine to five routine.

The seven-day week, the 24-hour society and the advances of globalisation have together created a whole new set of employment criteria, and many businesses, from financial services to supermarkets, have had no choice but to explore more flexible ways of managing their workforce.

Moreover, the rapid development of new forms of ICT and on-line communications across time zones and geographical locations has meant that home working is now a widely accepted option, with companies seeing the benefit in terms of reduced office costs as well as employee satisfaction.

Employers increasingly see the retention of skilled personnel as crucial to their business success and would rather pay an experienced executive more money for less time than retain someone less productive on a full-time basis.


The flexible employers

‘In order for any job to be carried out on a flexible basis, both the employer and the employee must be absolutely clear about what will work for them,’ comments Carol Savage, CE of the Resource Connection, a company set up in the late nineties to specialise in flexible executive recruitment, which has worked successfully with such companies as 3i, Compaq, Nat West and BT.

‘Businesses lose an enormous number of people through the stress of inflexible working conditions,’ continues Savage. ‘They waste huge amounts of experience and training through not having a more adaptable approach to their employees’ needs. When they do take employees’ needs into account, there is both a significant increase in morale and productivity and a reduction in absenteeism and stress.’

Many HR departments, though paying lipservice to flexible working, continue to fear the loss of control it might bring. But forward-looking companies are realising that to get the best staff they will have to widen their recruitment net and offer different kinds of reward to those with the skill and experience to warrant it. BAA, for example, recently took on a senior HR executive on a four-day week knowing that, by allowing her to work when it suited her, they would gain her full commitment to the job.

Other companies already well on the way to a more flexible approach include Procter & Gamble, Easyjet, Littlewoods, and the 22 companies that make up the Employers for Work-Life Balance – including Sainsbury’s, Asda and BT.


Happiness is a jobshare in Scotland

Most senior women managers accept that when they have children they will either have to remain exhausted and dependent on costly childcare, or they will have to choose to go part-time, which all too often means sacrificing a hard-won career.

Carol Swanson, 35, and Charo Cervantes, 37, are two fortunate women, who, through the enlightened policies of Lothian and Border police, have not had to sacrifice either their families or their careers.

‘Before I had children, I realised that work would be hard, but I didn’t have a clue about the reality,’ explains Carol Swanson, who had a managerial job with parcel distribution company Lynx, when she gave birth to her first child Duncan, now six.

Just five months after going back to work she decided that she would have to rethink her life. ‘I gave up work for a year and during that time I applied for a few part-time jobs. I was just at the point of thinking that I would have to lower my sights when I saw this advertisement for a job share.’

Carol and Charo now both work around 18 hours a week, managing all the support services of Lothian and Border six police stations. They control a budget of some £2m and a staff of 62.

Both women think that job-sharing benefits both them and their employer. ‘It is much better to share the burden,’ says Charo. ‘And we think that our boss gets better value with two brains.’

Their boss, chief superintendent Jim Pryde, agrees. ‘It is definitely a case of two heads being better than one.’

Where to find out about flexible working

• Contact the Employers for Work-Life Balance – whose 22 members include Lloyds TSB, Asda, BT, and Sainsbury’s – at www.EmployersforWork-LifeBalance.org.uk or call 020 7420 3847 for more details.

• The Resource Connection is the UK’s first recruitment company to have performed extensive psychometric testing on existing job-sharers. After testing nearly 60 job-share partnerships, they concluded that the teams that matched most closely in three key areas of personality – ambition, adaptability and attention to detail – were the ones most like to succeed.

They now provide an on-line recruitment service for those wishing to find a job-share partner in teaching, law, human resources, finance or IT, with psychometric testing to predict the likely success of each potential partnership. They also provide recruitment support for many other types of flexible working.

To register on-line, contact www.flexecutive.co.uk or call 020 7636 6744.

New Ways to Work is a charity which helps individuals explore all the options of working more flexibly. Contact them on 020 7930 3355.

About Lisa Freedman

Lisa Freedman is a regular contributor to The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent and Woman & Home magazine.

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