Flexible working

Is flexible working the new way of working, especially for mothers? 

Our Director Claire Gray has been in the industry for over 20 years and gives us her take on the growing trend of flexible working.  


Over the last 20 years in secretarial and PA recruitment, this is an area I have seen grow and a working style that needs to be addressed for both the younger generations and the increase in working mothers. 


Mothers with young children are more likely to go back to work or even start working now than 20 years ago.  However, the ONS (Office for National Statistics) suggests that the proportion of mothers working part-time when they have young children has remained relatively static over the period (although it remains much higher than those working full time). 

Through my recent and ongoing conversations with women looking for work and juggling growing children/childcare and bringing in an income as well as staying on a progressive and engaging career track, I believe that a more open approach to flexible working and remote working would make significant differences both economically and socially.  A working mother will maximise use of work time as their time is forever stretched and precious both for their jobs and their children.  A lot of mothers looking to get back into the workplace often talk of wanting to use their brain, having so much to offer and also having the capacity and ability to fit work in around children and wanting to do this.   


Flexible work offers options and has been proven to have an overwhelmingly positive effect on recruiting talent into companies and retaining talent.  Not everyone works at their best and most productive from 9-5.  Flexible working has a positive effect on staff morale, engagement, and commitment, and allows for a better work-life balance.  In our office, it has reduced absenteeism, lateness and boosted morale considerably.  It has allowed our largely female office staff to work around builders, deliveries, flights as well as fit more positive activities into their days this has included pottery classes, yoga, sleep course, retraining, and fitness; these are all benefitting staff performance, engagement and boosting mood. 


It surprised me when looking at this that almost half of full-time employees do not have flexible working encouraged at their workplace, although almost 70% wish they were offered flexible working.  Alongside this 81% of the working population really believe working remotely and more flexible would improve their productivity. 


As directors and company owners, we ran a survey for our staff last year, and all the benefits were listed in order of preference – this included private healthcare, holidays, training, days out, mobile phones as well as other perks and benefits that we have put thought and resource into over the 10 years of running Bain and Gray.  We found that flexible working was 90% of our employees no 1 priority for their happiness and well being at work.  We realised this needed to be addressed.  In order to make it work, we structured the flexible working into a buddy system, so that the employees run and manage their desks in pairs to ensure their work is still covered during the working day, but it has also meant that the desks are covered for a far longer stretch of the day.  Something that we thought might cut working time short has actually benefitted the business.  The Consultants are left to manage this, as managers and directors we have not had to monitor/manage or coordinate this, it just works, and I believe this is because the team really want it to work and it makes their work/life balance better.   


I strongly believe that this approach, however it is structured would benefit working mothers and those with outside business interests and personal goals.  I often meet candidates looking to train in something new, something they have always wanted to do, but never had time for, and it becomes a barrier to the positions they could go for because of the rigidity of the traditional 9-5. 


Attending a Global Recruiter day last year, it was also clear that attracting the younger generations into companies wasn’t so much about benefits but much more tied to training and nurturing a good work-life balance.  A number of larger companies had identified a need for flexibility to attract the younger generations coming into the workforce, this needed to be around where they work as well as when they work.  The traditional 9-5pm in an office was being identified as an unattractive work style and not necessarily the best motivator for productivity.  A number of HR professionals talked about attracting young talent as a critical area in their hiring and having to address and rethink how the younger generation want to work.  The media/creative and digital industries, in particular, were looking at paying for hours worked across the week harnessing an employee’s most productive time, this might be at 2 am in their kitchen and not at 9 am at their desk in the office.  They also realise that remote working was often the best way to attract the best talent to their businesses. 


It would seem that flexible working is clearly a benefit to both employer and employee, that it would improve the output of staff and enhance their wellbeing, that it is completely manageable with very little impact to businesses if structured well and is something we will see grow in the future.