Any employee who has worked for their company for 26 weeks has the right to make a request to work flexibly, although employers can refuse the request for business reasons (find out more here).
What a flexible working week looks like can differ widely. So we asked women from Facebook group Flexible Working for Mums Like Me - a place where women offer support to one another - to share their experiences. How did they find the process of requesting flexible working? What their working life now look like?
1. “I was initially turned down when I asked for flexible working.”
Lianne Baker, 36, from Aylesbury, has two boys, aged one and two. She has worked in HR for more than 10 years, and after her first maternity leave asked for flexible working - she was hoping to do five days a week, but leaving earlier - but was turned down. During her second maternity leave, following weeks of frustration trying to find a part-time role, she wrote a LinkedIn post about her experience. Her post hit a nerve and went viral.
“I had so many fantastic messages of support, advice and some genuine offers of interviews that eventually led to me being offered the perfect job at a new company,” she says. “For me, working flexibly is doing four days (two longer, two shorter) and also it means being set up so that I can work from home whenever I need to or want to. It’s great to just feel trusted to get the work done and not feel like anyone is clock watching. Being able to pick the children up and still do a great job is so important to me.”
2. “I made one rule for myself: that I would be be clear about my availability.”
Rachelle Denton, 39, who lives in London, is a creative strategist in marketing and has a one-year-old son. On her return from maternity leave, she decided that she needed something more flexible, so gave up her role in an agency to become a contractor. “I made one rule for myself: that I would be be clear about my availability and find a place that trusted my expertise,” she says. “Within two weeks I secured a role that was exactly what I needed.”
Prior to having children, Rachelle worked full-time Monday to Friday from 8.30am-5.30pm. Since having kids, she now works from one of two offices, three days a week from 8.30am to 3pm. She makes up the hours for the end of the days in the evenings, adding: “I do some extra work when the toddler is in bed at home, and on the two other weekdays I just check in during his nap times. I have one day a week dedicated to other projects - I can work from home, a cafe in town, I’ve even been known to set up in the Tate Modern.”
3. “I was open and honest with my employees from the start.”
Pamela Kosminsky, 34, from Leicestershire, is a health and fitness tutor and mum to two boys - aged four and 14 months. She started a new role when her son was three months old. She sent her line manager a proposal, outlining how she envisaged her working week could run, and then asked for a face-to-face meeting to discuss. Her schedule was granted. Pamela made sure the people she worked with were aware of her schedule: “I was open and honest with my team from the start as I needed to make sure that a flexible working pattern worked for us all.”
Pamela works in the office Monday (8am-4pm), Tuesday (8am-2pm) and Thursday (9am-4pm) and on Wednesday and Fridays works from home, getting up at 5am to fit in a couple of hours work before the boys wake. She will then do the nursery run, work between 10-2pm, pick up her son at 3pm and spend the evening with the children. If she needs to, she will do some work in the evening, too. “It’s a juggling act and some weeks run much smoothly than others,” she adds. “However, I have really supportive employers who understand the importance of being a working mum.”
4. “I have increased and decreased my hours depending on life needs.”
Justine Lee, 47, from Herefordshire, has two kids aged nine and 11. She’s a brand manager and found the process of asking for flexible working quite easy. Before giving birth she worked full-time, but when her first child was born, Justine returned to work for two and a half days a week, with two of those days from home for the first three months, and one of them subsequently.
“Over the years I have increased and decreased my hours depending on life needs,” she says. “I increased to three, then to four, then back down to three, then back up to four days. When the organisation I worked for merged with a larger organisation, my manager tried to encourage me to be more office-based, but I argued against it.” Justine now works 30 hours spread over five days, finishing early on a Tuesday and Friday, She works from home two days a week. Where possible, meetings are conducted using Skype or conference calls.
5. “I negotiated a full-time role to 3.5 days.”
Katy Fridman, 43, from London, has two children aged six and four, and is a freelance marketing consultant and founder of Flexible Working for Mums Like Me. When she had her first child she was working in a senior role in advertising, but took voluntary redundancy as her role involved long hours and travel. After this, she negotiated a full-time role as a trading director down to 3.5 days. She believes that this was possible because of her experience, explaining: “having great experience worked in my favour as employers have been happy to have a more senior experienced person do the role in less days.”
That’s not to say she found it easy. “It was hard making that work as I had a number of direct reports and it was a 24/7 business,” she says. “The kids were so young and the job was demanding and my director always wanted more of my time. I’ve been freelancing since and now choose the hours I work.”
6. “I decided to change careers so I could focus on my family.”
Angela Townley, 43, who lives in London, is mum to three children aged 12, 10 and four. She’s a registered nurse and had to change careers in order to make flexible working work for her and her family. After her first baby, Angela asked to work shorter days rather than the full 12 hours and night shifts. “This was not granted as they couldn’t manage the lack of senior nurses already,” she says. “I decided to leave, focus on my family and ended up paying my maternity pay back.”
After a five year career break, with her eldest children in school, she started working at a charity who offered flexible working hours so she could start work after the school run and have time to collect them from school. Now, she runs her own company First Aid Step By Step, which allows her to work from home.
To find out more about how to request flexible working with your employer, read the advice on the Government website.