Sick of the 9 to 5? Why we could all benefit from more flexible working

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Sarah Biddlecombe

Chances are, if you're reading this, you're employed under a regular 9-5 working pattern. The weekdays will see you working at your desk in the office while the weekends are reserved for fun with your family, catching up with friends or consuming copious amounts of gin.

But what if you could break free from the Dolly Parton pattern of working and sculpt your hours according to your lifestyle, following in the footsteps of our Danish friends and prioritising your work-life balance over, simply, your work? 

Flexible working can provide benefits to those juggling work with caring for children or elderly relatives, as well as those with disabilities or other health issues, and it can also benefit employers. Since June 2014, all employees in the UK who have worked for their employer for 26 weeks or more have the right to formally request flexible working, and an estimated eight and a half million people currently work flexibly - five million of whom are women.

However, increased awareness around flexible working is needed, to help encourage more workers and employers to benefit from an agile workplace. Yesterday, the Women and Work All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), which aims to promote discussion around women in the workplace, met to discuss the benefits of flexible working.

Here, three of the women who spoke put forward their arguments for why more employers should offer flexible working patterns, with a whole plethora of benefits being clear for both women and men.

"The more we allow people to work flexibly, the more we can get the best out of them" - Caroline Dinenage, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women and Equalities


"We need to convince all employers, particularly male employers, of the benefits of flexible working. The economy needs to be able to benefit from everybody's talent and experiences, particularly now with regards to Brexit.

We estimate the annual benefit to businesses for extending the right to request flexible working are over £55 million, but too many companies are limiting their recruitment options and damaging their competitiveness by not recognising the benefits of having an agile workplace.

Shared parental leave is helping women back into their careers after having children, but we have to remember it's not just parents who want increased flexibility in their working hours. We need to consider carers, older workers preparing for retirement, or those with disabilities. We need to maximise the benefits of being able to employ absolutely anybody.

The more we allow people to work flexibly around their lifestyle, the more we can get the best out of them.

The extension of the right to request flexible working has doubled the number of employees making that request to over 20 million and we expect around 80,000 new requests per year. Over eight and a half million people already work flexibly and, of these, three million are men.

One of the most meaningful changes we could make to society is to close the gender pay gap and that means offering flexible jobs at all levels. Flexibility is all too often available for the lowest paid jobs: our research found that less than 5% of jobs that pay over £30,000 per year are advertised as being flexible and that needs to be addressed.

Flexibility in the workplace doesn't mean special treatment for women, or for mothers. It applies to everyone from all walks of life."

"The option for flexible working would help keep women in the game" - Rowan Davies, Mumsnet Head of Policy and Campaigns


"Women on Mumsnet bring up their careers on the site time and time again - it's something they are obviously all very invested in.

The issue of agile working could help to address the "motherhood penalty", which is the phenomenon where, after having a child, a woman's seniority and lifetime earnings take a dip. In contrast, there is a "daddy bonus" where, after having a child, a man's seniority and lifetime earnings go up.

As one of our members wrote, "having the audacity to become a mother seems to be the death knell for many women's career".

We surveyed our users last year and found that 65% of mothers felt having children had had a negative effect on their career. In addition, 71% cited flexible working as something they would prioritise in looking for a new job.

The option for flexible working would address the motherhood penalty in two obvious ways: by helping alleviate the cost of childcare and, simply, by keeping women in the game.

We also need to do something about the division of domestic related tasks, particularly within male and female coupled families. Many of our users have said they would support more - and better - paternity pay."

"Flexible working needs to be the default, not the exception" - Mubeen Bhutta, Working Families Head of Policy and Campaigns


"Although we have come a long way with flexible working, there is still a long way to go before we achieve the widespread cultural change that is so desperately needed.

We need to start considering time poverty as much as financial poverty, especially since figures from our Modern Families Index show that working parents in the UK spend, on average, an extra 10 hours a week finishing work outside of office hours. 

We have seen a shift in sharing childcare among younger couples, with more men helping out and younger fathers being the demographic group most willing to take a pay cut to find a better work-life balance.

However, paid paternity leave needs improving, and employers need to make a move towards flexible recruitment being the default rather than the exception."


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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Features Editor at Stylist

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