Guest comment: How to make flexible working work

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Not everyone wants to work long days, five days a week, in an office, says Jody Foster at headhunters Sapphire Partners. Fortunately, there are alternatives.

Highly educated and experienced professionals are looking for different ways to lead their lives.

Rather than focusing on the traditional time-centric model of work, in which bankers spend long days at their desks, or even longer hours fraternising with clients, the new emphasis - for some - is to move to a flexible model that rewards performance and impact, not face time.

What is 'flexible working?' There are many variations, ranging from a full-on interim assignment, lasting a few months and allowing for downtime post assignment, to a permanent assignment with three to four days in the office and a day or two from home. As maternity leaves lengthen, so does the need for firms to find ways to meet interim needs.

The common factor is the amount of control the employee has over his or her daily schedule to meet work and family expectations. Firms often get 100% of an experienced person's brain power and expertise for a fraction of the cost.

Flexible working is nothing to fear

For banks, a request to work flexibly can be a frightening proposition, often seen as a nuisance and drain on resources. This indeed is not the case. We work with many front-office bankers who are looking for career advancement and intellectual stimulation without being tied to their desks. They are successfully managing to deliver excellent service to their clients, who are often more understanding and appreciative of their efforts than their own employers.

For individuals, making a request to work flexibly can be equally daunting. In many cases it is seen as a death knell to an otherwise promising career. This is harder to avoid - in banking in particular, a request to work flexibly may suggest [to the uninitiated] a lack of commitment, but the evidence shows quite the contrary.

A recent study showed flexible workers were as productive (or more so) as if working a traditional work week, as they developed better time management skills and, as an added bonus, they had stronger employer loyalty.

So how should you make the case for flexibility? Here's our checklist:

1) Make the case from the employer's perspective - high performance, lower cost.

2) Have a communications plan prepared and schedule regular check-ins.

3) Work together on an evaluation plan so expectations are set up-front.

And if you're unsuccessful? There are always alternative enlightened employers. Banks may be making redundancies now, but the number of people entering the workforce is still diminishing, making it increasingly important that skilled employees, particularly women, remain in work. Leading firms will respond flexibly. Those that don't will lose out.

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