Category: Negotiating and Making it Work

Leaning in on our terms - 4 steps to make your job flexible

Leaning in on our terms – 4 steps to make your job flexible

One of the biggest challenges for working parents is how to balance leaning into a demanding corporate career with caring responsibilities. In an era of mass customisation, the smart answer is to customise your job.

Inflexible flexible working policies?

Chances are, your employer offers flexible working policies. The problem is that often they’re not only inflexible in their application, but also likely to sit within rigid corporate cultures and entrenched working practices that deny the possibility of combining parenthood with a senior career. It’s no surprise that research reveals the most common flexible arrangement women opt for is some form of part-time working –experiencing the well documented “part-time pay penalty” and taking a hit on longer term career prospects.

Offering reduced hours arrangements is neither truly flexible nor effective – it’s merely a way of squeezing those employees unable to balance outside responsibilities with stringent full-time hours into traditional workplace arrangements.

In an era where almost anything can be customized, the smart answer is to customize your job. Given available technology and the relentless drive towards 24/7 working, there’s never been a better time to redesign full-time jobs. The challenge lies in identifying an arrangement you can be confident will work for you.

Ready to customize your full-time job for better balance?

Use this four-step process to customize your manager level full-time job so you can remain on the career ladder and live a more balanced life.

1. List the Key Tasks for which your employer hired you

The key parts of your job are the parts of your job where the majority of your focus should lie. You need to start here, and it’ s essential for two reasons. Firstly, it will remind you of the skills, qualifications and experience (both prior and gained inside your current organisation) that make you valuable to your employer.

And secondly, it will identify clearly the “deliverables” on which your workplace performance should be assessed. One of the biggest challenges where a flexible arrangement involves remote working, is making sure senior managers are assessing you on outputs, not presence.

Now is also a good time to identify those parts of your job which eat into your time but don’t actually require your level of skill. Can they be delegated? Automated? Or perhaps even eliminated?

2. Identify which of your deliverables are “time critical”  and which are “location critical” 

Time critical tasks are things like monthly reports, location critical tasks are things like on-site training courses. So take your list of key tasks and identify which of your key tasks fall in these categories.

Reviewing these two aspects will suggest where the flexibility in the job lies. And, of course, feeding into this is the fact that few people work alone so you’ll need to give thought to how you and your colleagues can support each other’s desire for flexibility.

3. Consider your personal preference for managing the work-life interface

Thirty years of social science research into work-life balance has shown – among other things – that most people tend to have a preference over whether they keep work and life separate or integrate them.

Working in circumstances which go against your preferences is likely to make you unhappy, stressed and disengaged. Of course total separation and total integration are actually two ends of a continuum. To identify your personal style take a look at this online questionnaire developed by a leading work-life academic.

4. Identify your stakeholders

Finally, take some time to identify and list the people around you that will need to be on board for your new working arrangement to succeed. This might include customers or clients, other people inside your workplace and people in your wider network – such as partners, childcare providers and so on. At minimum you’ll need to manage your interactions with them differently; and in some cases re-negotiating existing arrangements may be necessary.

Having worked through these four steps, you’re more likely to arrive at a customised full-time job which will enable you to keep your feet on the career ladder while feeling you’re living a more balanced life. And the chances are that in most cases it will consist of small adaptations, rather than a radical re-design. Which is all to the good. As someone pointed out to me a couple of years ago “change happens best when nobody notices!”

Your final challenge will be to identify and develop the key skills you’ll need to ensure on-going success. These may include enhancing or even changing your communication style, improved self-management or even training so you can harness technology more effectively away from the office.

If your employer provides coaching or training as part of their Career Development Strategy, now’s the time to take advantage of this.

Anna MellorAuthor: Anna Meller. has spent the last 20 years making work-life balance her business. A successful consultant, thought leader, researcher and author, Anna’s accessible approach is both evidence based and pragmatic. In December 2013 she will be piloting a workshop ‘Leaning in on Our Terms‘ in London to explore the ideas shared above.  

Flexible working and redundancy – two sides of the same coin

Flexible working and redundancy – two sides of the same coin

Mums working flexibly may feel more vulnerable to redundancy. However, in some cases, being prepared to work flexibly may save you your job. Find out how to avoid redundancy and why working flexibly could be to your advantage.

Requesting flexible working arrangements

The law gives the “right to request” flexible working to qualifying employees who are parents of children up to and including the age of 16, parents of disabled children up to 18, and carers of adult relatives. However, an employer can refuse on certain grounds, which are set out in various articles elsewhere on this website.

Will my employer agree to a flexible working arrangement, but blacklist me?

Those working flexibly may feel that the employer sees them as being less committed or “on the mummy track”. A new boss may inherit a flexible working arrangement and dislike it.

Many people opt for job-share arrangements. However, although such arrangements bring benefits for both employer and employee, they may be perceived to be more expensive for employers (and may actually be more expensive, for example, if two people work three days a week each, rather than one person working five). This may make such arrangements more vulnerable in economic times of woe.

However, although all these things can happen, redundancy criteria must be transparent and non-discriminatory. Any criteria that would be likely to affect flexible or part-time workers more than full-timers may be indirectly discriminatory on gender grounds and therefore potentially unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 as well as being an automatically unfair dismissal.

To put yourself in the best position possible, it’s stating the obvious to say “do a good job”. But you need to do more than that: you need to make sure other people know you are doing a good job. Make sure you keep evidence of your achievements and copy people into important e-mails (without being sucked into a “cc culture”).

Keep a diary of your work, your achievements and any important projects you have worked on. If anyone sends you an email saying that you have done a good job, make sure you file it somewhere safe. The more evidence you have, the more easily you can show that you are committed to your work and that the flexible working arrangement is working.

Could flexible working actually save my job?

While many women worry that they are vulnerable to redundancy, flexible working may actually save their jobs. Some employers have realised that flexible working can help them to retain good staff during the recession. It’s not all good news for employees, as it may mean reduced hours and pay.

You can refuse to change your working pattern, but then you may be at risk of redundancy. Thus, agreeing to work flexibly could help you to keep your job, and it may be preferable to earn 80% of your salary than 0% of salary. It also means that employers save on redundancy costs and the costs of recruiting and training new staff when the economic situation improves.

An example of this was in 2009, when it was reported  that City law firm Norton Rose was offering alternatives to redundancy. Staff were offered the option of working four-day weeks on 85% of pay or taking a sabbatical of up to 12 weeks on 30% of pay. By exploring these options with staff, the firm was able to retain more staff, along with their knowledge, skills and contacts.

As the economy improved, Norton Rose reinstated the five day week (although the author is not aware if anyone asked to keep their four day a week arrangements, and if so, whether it was permitted). It was held up in the legal press as a beacon of good practice when other law firms were making large numbers of people redundant, so such practices can lead to good publicity for employers.

KMPG carried out a similar process. Several of the UK-based car manufacturers have also used elements of flexible working (negotiated with the workforce) as a means of reducing the number of redundancies and thus retaining their skills base.

So, if you work for a company that is making redundancies and you feel flexible working is something they should consider you could suggest it to your employer. Reasonable measures must be taken to come up with alternatives to compulsorily making people redundant, so your employer must seriously consider such suggestions.

Author: Helen Hart was a practising lawyer for many years and spent the last four years working for a legal publishing company. She now works part-time in a public library as well as being a freelance writer and editor.

Flexible working after the Olympic Games

Flexible working during the Olympics: how can you make the most of it?

The government is actively encouraging employers to allow flexible working during the period of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, could you take advantage of this? What could you do to let your employer extend your flexible working arrangements beyond the Games.

Getting around London during the Games

There are regular reports in the media as to how London’s transport system is going to crash during the Olympic Games and how people will not be able to get to work. Many suggestions have been made to improve matters: staggering hours/shifts, home working, and less usefully for our purposes, spending some time in the pub after work and delaying your journey home.


Right to request flexible working, just during the Games?

The law gives the “right to request” flexible working to qualifying employees who are parents of children up to and including the age of 16, parents of disabled children up to 18, and carers of adult relatives. However, an employer can refuse on certain grounds:

  • planned structural changes;
  • the burden of additional costs;
  • a detrimental impact on quality;
  • the inability to recruit additional staff;
  • a detrimental impact on performance;
  • the inability to reorganise work among existing staff;
  • a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand; and/or
  • lack of work during the periods the employee proposes to work.

Employers have explicitly expressed concern that allowing staff to work flexibly during the Olympic Games will increase employees’ expectation of such working patterns being granted on a permanent basis in the future. Those employers are being advised to make clear to their staff that changes being introduced during the exceptional circumstances of the Olympic Games and that existing flexible working policies in line with the statutory framework will continue to apply after the Games.

The arguments you need to convince your employer to extend your flexible working hours beyond the Olympics

It might be short-sighted of an employer to take the line that flexible working is just during the Olympic Games, and all is not lost for you. If revised arrangements work for a few weeks, they may well work long-term and it’s worth an employee pointing this out. For example, if the employer fears a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand, but output is maintained during the Games, you may have a stronger case to support your application for permanent flexible working.

Some jobs just do not lend themselves to flexible working, such as teaching or being a receptionist (although shift patterns may be flexible in some roles) but others do. An employer may be able to save money on office space if it has more people working at home or if people work different shift patterns to avoid the rush-hour. An employee ought to be able to show that they can do their job just as well from home, or between the hours of 7-3 or 11-7 rather than between 9-5. Avoiding travel can save time and increase productivity.

According to Stylist magazine, a survey by Regus found that 60% of businesses believe that flexible work, whether office hours or location, is more cost-efficient. A desk for a single employee in London can cost £12,000 a year. So use these kinds of arguments in your flexible working application.

If you can work flexibly on a temporary basis during the Games, use the time to achieve as much as you can, so when you come to apply to extend the arrangement, you can point to achievements during that period to support your case. It is also worth asking to extend the temporary arrangement – for example, by saying that you’ve been working flexibly for 4-6 weeks – if the employer is not yet convinced that it works for the business, could you carry on for another 4-6 weeks to give the arrangement a more lengthy trial?

Employers will need to consider issues such as:

  • confidentiality (made more difficult to police by remote working);
  • your health and safety (an employer needs to rely on you to risk-assess your working environment); and
  • the robustness of their IT systems (do they have enough licences for remote working applications, can their servers support increased numbers of home workers).

So give some thought to these issues when making your application and how they can be addressed.

Author: Helen Hart was a practising lawyer for many years and spent the last four years working for a legal publishing company. She now works part-time in a public library as well as being a freelance writer and editor.

Flexible working in law - a woman's perspective

Flexible working in law – a woman’s perspective

A working mum and managing associate in a Magic Circle Law Firm has found a flexible arrangement that works for her. Lawyers out there, it can be done!

Women in Law, Tuesday 5 July 2011, by a Women in a Magic Circle Law Firm

Why everyone hates you going part-time and what you can do about it

Why everyone hates you going part-time and what you can do about it

Ready to request flexible work? Do consider what will be your bosses and co-workers main concerns, and how are you going to address them. Find tips from research and from women like you and … be prepared.

In an ideal world all employers, managers, HR departments and co-workers would be supportive of flexible working. However, in reality this is often not the case. For you it means that, if you would like to work flexibly, you are most likely going to be a trailblazer. This requires a pro-active approach, and you need to be prepared to go the extra mile to make it work.

Not only do you need to know what sort of hours you would like to work, and how you think part-time might work in your role. But also it is wise to address potential concerns of your employer and co-workers.


To avoid any form of friction, suggest clear and rational criteria that could work for all employees. Ask your manager to explain to other employees which criteria were applied and how potential issues will be solved. e.g how you will cover for hours not in the office, or for days not worked.

Check for policies in your organization, and try to fit your request within policies. Organisations do not like changing their policies. They also do not like setting a precedent: if you will be allowed a certain amount of flexibility it should be offered to others too. Try and find reasons how this might benefit your company (LINK), or how your situation is different, so will not set a precedent in the first place.


Employers often complain ‘I have asked my part-time worker to do some extra hours, just like I ask other people in the team, but she blankly refuses’.

When you get a question like this, always engage in a conversation. Understand the business hours for the need to work extra. Suggest other ways you can meet those needs or other ways the needs can be met. Explain clearly what makes it difficult for you to work those extra hours. Discuss whether you are treated the same as full-time workers and why you think you should or shouldn’t.

Clients might not like it

Clients need certain things to happen at certain times. Find out what the essential client requirements are, and how your team could work flexibly together to meet those. Could some staff be on call, without having to be in the workplace? Suggest discussing your proposals with your clients

Promotion prospects

Employers worry they might not be able to give you the same promotion prospects as other workers. Explain your expectations, and discuss possibilities. If you are happy to stay at the same level for a while, communicate this clearly, and include your expectations for how long and what you expect after that. If you are happy with a slower rate of promotion, discuss your requirements. If you do expect promotion, and this is indeed reasonable, suggest how criteria or additional responsibilities might be adapted proportionally, e.g. full-time workers need to build up two accounts, you need to build up one in the same period to be entitled.

Unavailability of your knowledge and skills at key moments

Agree on who will be your back-up. Consider whether you would be open to checking in from home at regular intervals or during key processes. Think about which additional resources you might need to make it work: a laptop, blackberry, access to IT at home, access to the IT helpdesk from home.

You will not have the energy or focus for work

Especially since you are parenting when at home, not there all the time, and working less hours employers have concerns you might be less dedicated. Communicate your goals and priorities clearly. Agree more regular feed-back or evaluation sessions with your boss, initially, to help you clear expectations. Show an interest in what happened in the office during your absence.

It takes more time or money to manage flexible workers

This can especially be a concern when more people in the team work flexibly, or might want to. Understand what the additional costs might be, as usually it shouldn’t take more expenses when someone distributes their hours differently. Managing flexible workers shouldn’t usually take more time than managing full-time, regular workers. Understand what sort of things seem to take more time, and find solutions to manage them in a different way.

There are indeed some areas that really do bring extra costs: The employment of part-time workers may lead to higher training, administrative and recruitment costs. For example, it may take longer to recruit and/or train two part-timers than one full-timer to cover the same hours of work. Providing a continuous level of service may also be more difficult. In addition more time might be needed for communication (e.g. hand-overs).

It is not affordable for a small business

Introducing flexibility does not have to cost a lot. Flexibility is rarely expensive and often the simplest changes have the most impact. The company might actually get more loyal, motivated and dedicated employees in return for a minor investment. Find more benefits for employers in Part-time pays.

Author: Inge Woudstra, founding Director of Mum & Career. She would like to thank the Equality and Human Rights Commission and ACAS, as many of the ideas in this article are based on their guidance and research. For more information please read the Working better: A manager’s guide to Flexible Working from the EHRC, and the Advisory Booklet: Flexible working and work-life balance by ACAS

Creative ways of finding part-time work

Creative ways of finding part-time work

It’s not easy to find a flexible job or an employer that allows you to work flexible hours. But it can help to get creative.

Don’t give up, here’s some ideas that might just help you find the job of your dreams.

Start with your old employer

Many women returners find the best place to start is their old employer. They might have an opening themselves, or know what’s happening in your field. Go for a chat, and see where they are. Prepare yourself by reading up on the latest developments in your field and on flexible working.

Consider up-front which type of working hours would suit you, your family and your field of work best.

Try small or medium-sized businesses

You might find that many small or medium-sized businesses, often started by women, provide flexibility. There are for instance virtual PA’s businesses, and law firms that mainly work with free-lance lawyers. You can find a case description of one of these companies on Business Link – government’s online resource for businesses. It is tremendously encouraging and they sound almost too good to be true.

Look in local papers

Do check out local papers, as many part-time jobs, for instance in local schools and charities are advertised there. A recruitment agency like ‘Women Like Us’, knows that parents like to work in the local area, and advertise locally too.


Part-time jobs are more prevalent in certain sectors, mainly in: nursing, education, administration and finance. However, don’t let yourself be put off if those are not the areas you are qualified to work in, you should not forget it is possible to re-train and many women do.

Create it yourself

If you work in a field that doesn’t offer much part-time options, you could be the trend setter and become one of the first people in your field working part-time.

A highly stressed corporate lawyer might consider moving into family law or in-house law, which can offer more flexible hours. An academic might secure her own funding and work hours to suit her. Go for it! Create it yourself!

Apply for full-time jobs

Just apply and take the risk. Many employers have a flexible working policy, and some are willing to discuss flexible hours, with the right candidate. Once you seem to have a real chance in the process, start discussing your requirements. Obviously you will not get the hours down to 2 days a week, but the employer is looking for a job to be done. Perhaps you can do that job when working partly from home, or working 4 days of 9 hours, thus still providing the employer with a good quality candidate.

Recruitment agency or head hunter for flexible work

You will find a list on our part-time working page.

Become your own boss

Start your own business or go free-lance

Part-time pays

Part-time pays

In the UK there are over 600,000 women with children who want to work but can’t find the job opportunities to fit around their family life. Most have plenty of experience. So why then are they finding a job search so difficult?

The truth of the matter is that it remains a struggle for women with children to find a job that not only suits the hours they require, but to find a role that is at the level of their skill-base and experience. Despite recent improvements, there is still a severe lack of part-time opportunities at more senior levels in companies. One of the problems is getting more companies to realise the many benefits that can be gained from recruiting part-time staff – at every level.

Benefits for employers of hiring part-time

By hiring part-time an organisation can:

  • buy-in a higher level of expertise and talent with the same budget. F or example securing a part-time senior employee for the price of a full-time junior;
  • split a full-time job between two people. This way an organisation might acquire a mix of skills and talent that might be impossible to find in one person alone;
  • Employ staff only for the time necessary to deliver a job. This can greatly improve both productivity and profitability; it also lends itself to higher staff retention rates;
  • open up a pool of talent and experience that would otherwise be excluded from a typical job search: the woman returner.Simply by reducing a prospective job down from 5 days automatically widens the appeal of the job to women with children who want a part-time job for the long-term and are keen to remain loyal and committed in exchange for flexibility.

Women Like Us research shows employers recognise these benefits

Interestingly, research conducted by Women Like Us has pointed to the fact that the tide is starting to turn and employers are beginning to wake up to these benefits. For instance, 73% of employers Women Like Us surveyed said they thought the 9-5 day was an outdated concept and no longer reflected the work patterns of the UK. 96% of survey respondents said they believed part-time isn’t just for low skilled roles – but that they believed it could also work for experienced, highly-skilled roles. 42% responded saying that senior managers and directors already work part time in their organisations.
It is this kind of innovative HR thinking that, if embraced by more companies, will herald a revolution in the number of existing part-time job opportunities, and in turn will affect the current perception of part-time roles –organisations will see: part-time pays.

Author: Alex Campbell, Women Like Us. Women Like Us was conceived in 2005 and has been growing fast ever since as an award-winning leading recruitment specialist in part-time work. They have not only built an organisation that is commercially successful but also one that has a core social value – enabling women to find – not just any job – but the right job.

Over the past six years Women Like Us has built up a candidate-base of 22,000 women in London, all looking for part-time work to fit with family, and has 3,000 employers of all sizes on its books, from SMEs to the UK’s largest retailers. It has also witnessed a 41% growth in jobs advertised through their service in the past year. Looking for a part-time opportunity or more information? Visit: