I can imagine the conversation in the 1980s (I think) when this term first started to come into being.
“So we can work shorter days, or fewer days and even compress weeks so we can better balance our life and work commitments? Where do I sign?”.
We’d had part timers for a while. Perhaps largely in support roles like cleaners, reception staff and filing clerks. We’d not had imaginative work patterns and work from home. Impossible unless you were an artist or maybe a journalist. We ALL turned up to work somewhere. We all clocked in and out. We had our desk and our things and our personalised space.
And then we computerised. And manufacturing was done somewhere else largely. And then we had legislation which created new compliance and practices around fairness in the workplace. And the right to request flexible working.
We also had outrageous subterfuge, avoidance and disdain from managers about these “part timers” who were never there when they needed them. Those people who had to audacity to clock off even though the work cupboard was still full.
Attitudes towards people who worked different patterns were awful in some of the experiences I came to hear about. Overlooked for development; ignored when there were projects and prejudiced around promotability.
Flexible working has not always been something people have understood, embraced let alone utilised. Quite the opposite, new prejudices emerged and action was needed to fully integrate someone who wanted a role that suited their life and not a job that was a mechanised, large and fixed aspect of their life.
So we’re in 2014 and flexible working this is the norm right?
Well there are 8.07m people whose role in employment is less than 25 hours.
If you read some Daily Mail stories it is also because many people in this category cannot find full-time work. Articles like these seem to suggest part-time work is of a lower standard and people accept it.
Yet I want to flip that dynamic.
If MORE of us could work for (say) 4 days a week with a decent living wage and then spend 1 more day per week
* spending time with our families
* learning to play the piano
* watching arthouse films
* helping elderly neighbours do their garden
* researching and learning about new things
I suspect the answer is we WOULD.
Yet this work construct of 5 days (which spills out into 7 and all sorts of permutations) has many people quietly being biased against people who work alternative patterns. Part-timers. Part-something. Full-timers. Fully in with something. The language is wrong.
My experience is that many people working on a different pattern showed: –
* More loyalty than others
* More commitment to their work
* Did more in 25 hours than some did in 37
* Always flexed
* Were focused
* Were involved in less issues (other people’s attitudes to them caused the issues)
* Took more responsibility
* Were unrivalled in their positivity about inclusion in initiatives and offered temporary promotions / responsibility / leads and not like some who thought it their rite of passage.
So I am pleased we now say flexible working. I am pleased we are getting over any thoughts that working in an alternative way is abnormal.
Working 5 days per week pressing the same buttons, talking to the same people and sitting in the same chair and we are thinking THAT’S normal?
A good friend of mine Mervyn Dinnen gave me this phrase which says it all for me:
It’s about WORK not JOBS.
I think this is a fundamental shift into the way we need to think. We should challenge the entire orthodoxy that says someone only contributes fully when they work for 5 days a week and physically turn up for those 5 days – and that anything less than that is only “part”.
Flexible means exactly that. Different. Adaptable.
I’d like to offer this mnemonic here: FLEX.
Not a “part” of anything.
Except an alternative proposition to the woes of the work machine we REALLY ought to think more deeply about.
There are other ways.
Flexible ways to enable people to be more fulfilled, loyal, energised and extraordinary.
We could all do with a bit more of that as normal eh?