When I returned from maternity leave it was important to me that I had control over my return to business life.
As a director at a law firm who had been working 12-hour days, I needed to determine how this transition from full-time baby back to billion-pound cases would work. My employer was flexible and willing to support me in what was the best way to get my career back on the road post-baby. For me this meant three days a week in the office to start with and then two additional afternoons from home when I found my feet but decided I wanted to do more. Now we’re both reaping the rewards.
For busy working parents juggling nappies and conference calls, flexible working can be the silver bullet that lets you manage both.
It can amount to various things from flexible start and finish times, so-called ‘compressed hours’ working full time over fewer days or working from home for all or part of the working week. It’s a negotiation that allows you to you balance your priorities. When it’s set up well, you’ll never work better.
UK flexible working legislation ensures that employees who have been working somewhere for at least 26 weeks are eligible to request it, parents or not. Your flexible working rights are protected by the Employment Rights Act 1996. They can refuse your application but need to offer a good business reason for doing so. Your request needs to be dealt with in a ‘reasonable manner’. They must abide by set procedure and time limits, and you are owed a meeting, and if necessary, an appeal process. If your employer fails to follow the procedure or does not give proper business reasons for refusing your request, then you can claim compensation.
It has as much to offer employers as it does their staff. You can mobilise more talented people, reward and retain loyal staff. People can work when they are most productive, or build in non-negotiables, be they family or medical, into their working lives. Flexibility-where-possible allows businesses to access untapped potential. Good people don’t become assets lost. Clever, dedicated working mothers aren’t squeezed out by rigid structures built for men with wives at home to look after them. The talent pool grows and so does diversity – something that’s good for teams and good for businesses.
Technology has made sharing a physical office all of the time simply less valuable. People live, work and cut deals internationally. As long as you can dial into a conference call, most office workers can thrive despite not being “on the ground” all day-every day. Meanwhile whilst London office rents continue to soar, one wonders whether the future will see fewer people in them. Certainly, the workplace is changing shape and it’s no bad thing. Research consistently suggest that full-time employees value flexibility and ultimately, a happy workforce is a good one.
Of course, working rights can do so much, it’s slower work getting attitudes to change, particularly amongst the old guard. Businesses need to move on from the seventies, along with their workforces. I suspect that those that don’t may struggle to attract the best people to work for them and they will lose out to their more innovative competitors.
And with so many parents working full-time (even though childcare is, for many, prohibitively expensive) flexible working is rapidly becoming a logistical necessity.
Most of us are always pursuing the holy grail of the perfect work-life balance. We want to work full-time, often have to, and don’t want to have to compromise our family life either. Employers need to see the way the wind is blowing. Flexi-work is the future.
About the author
Georgina Hamblin is a top divorce solicitor, at Vardags. She has particular expertise in high-value multi-jurisdictional divorce cases and jurisdictional disputes as well as cases involving family trusts and pre-acquired wealth. Since qualification, she has regularly represented high-profile business men and women, entrepreneurs, art and antique dealers and other high net worth individuals.
Georgina was instrumental in helping to lead former beauty queen, Pauline Chai to victory against her Laura Ashley and Corus Hotels tycoon husband in her jurisdictional battle spanning two hemispheres, in the extraordinary case of Chai v Khoo.