Flexible working: why more companies should be adapting to the modern alternative to the 9-to-5

Flexible working – It’s a topic which is extremely prominent in the news right now. Thanks to technology, we are no longer constrained to the working day which is limited to the hours of 9-to-5, meaning more and more people are able to work hours which can be substituted around their busy life. I myself am an advocate of flexible working, with two daughters, a husband, a dog and a busy schedule I’m fortunate to be able to cater my clients around my life – yet not everyone is so fortunate, and many mothers are burning the candle at both ends trying to support a full time job, and their family life.

The exact definition of flexible working is ‘Any working pattern which is different from existing or timetabled hours. Be it flexitime – completing the employers contracted hours in a time which suits the employee, home working, or a concept which many new mothers take on; job sharing, where two people share a full time role, one may work Monday-Wednesday and the other Thursday and Friday. 

While in theory it sounds simple, not many employers seem to be on board, still preferring their workers to travel in, which can be more difficult in bigger cities like Manchester or London where people in families may live further out, meaning the busy commute could add around three hours to an already lengthy workday. A recent study by the TUC (Trades Union Congress) has reported 1 in 3 flexible working requests are turned down, 58% of jobs are unavailable for flexitime in the UK, which rises to 65% of working class roles, and around a third of workers have admitted that the lack of opportunity to work flexibly means they would look for a new role, a worrying statistic when considering staff retention, especially in an industry like the fashion one where more and more people are seeking to move roles more frequently. As employees, people are becoming much more aware of their rights, and if demands can’t be met, they’re happy to seek new opportunities elsewhere.

As we well know – in fashion, demands are high. As one of the most competitive industries – people are conscious they could be replaceable, particularly in entry level fashion jobs earlier on in their career. Hours can be long, and work can feel relentless. With a wealth of fashion marketing jobs in Manchester, London and beyond (every major city will have these opportunities), you can simply work from your laptop – meaning there’s no need to be stuck in the office, and this is similar for merchandising and graphic design roles.

However, for garment technologists, buying, and product based roles it can be a little more difficult. In more team based and product facing roles like these, there is a need to be more present. This shouldn’t have to mean being forced to attend the office everyday, in a time where technology rules there can be ways around this – and if your company really isn’t so accommodating, find somewhere which is! Speak to fashion agencies, they’ll be in the know about the best places to work in.

It’s a conversation which is ongoing, and influencers like Anna Whitehouse (@mother_pukka) is using her social status to campaign for the pros of flexible working – with a campaign called Flex Appeal. A perhaps surprisingly unknown fact, any employee who has worked for a company for more than six months is entitled to ask for flexible working. In a recent interview for the Telegraph’s Stella Magazine, Anna has said, ‘If we want to get the best out of each individual, regardless of whether they’re parents or not, we need a fundamental shift in the way we all work. We need to change the law to make flexible working available by default and put the onus on the employer to offer it.’

With many employers current lack of support towards the flexible working movement, it’s ended up building up a stigmatism for those who have no choice but to do so, with many feeling as if they need to overcompensate if working from home – something I definitely used to feel! The fact of the matter is, just because someone may not be physically present in an office, it doesn’t mean they’re not working as hard as those who are there, in fact – without distractions they could be much more productive?

It has proven to be successful elsewhere, in Sweden, they very much have the attitude of quality, not quantity, where only 1.1% of the nations employees work long hours. Many people start work at 7 and leave at 3, and the cities rush hours last from 3-6pm. The result of this? Sweden has been ranked the best in the world for work-life balance. There’s no stigmatism if someone is seen leaving their desk before 5pm, and alongside this trust in flexibility, there’s also a gracious amount of parental leave permitted. For each child in a family there is a massive 480 days leave granted, meaning pressures of working from home, or taking the day off due to illness become less of a worry. If it works for them – why can it not work for us?

What could happen next? Despite it being an extremely busy political time, flexible working is on the governments agenda, as they’re considering new duties on large employers (companies which hire more than 250 people) who must be fully transparent on their flexible working policies, as well as job adverts having a requirement which specifies what the flexible working terms of the roles are. 

As always, there’s still work to be done, but this is a conversation that, to be effective, needs to continue to stay open in order to disrupt current habits. We can do it!