Matt's blog: Ingredients for flexible working success
I've worked for my current employer for just over one year now. In looking for a new role, a key criterion was the flexibility of part-time working to allow me to spend more time with my daughter (and avoid the need for us to recruit a nanny to assist with childcare). I interviewed at, and had offers from, a large number of other law firms. My current employer was the only one, however, which was willing to entertain the idea of a lateral hire on a part-time basis. For the past year, therefore, I've worked a four-day week, spending Fridays with my daughter. In September, when my daughter starts school, my working pattern will change to allow me to do a couple of school pick-ups. During term time I will spread my working week across five days, doing two half days each week. During school holidays I will revert to my current pattern, spending Fridays with my daughter. In fact, every request I have made for additional flexibility has been accommodated by my employer with minimum fuss. As I write this, I am enjoying a period of parental leave at home agreed at short notice due to a childcare emergency over the summer.
The key to making these arrangements work has been the people I work with and their mindset. The firm as a whole is very forward thinking and, rather than just paying lip service to such concepts, has a clear commitment to diversity, employee wellbeing and the idea of alternative and "agile" style working arrangements. Added to this, my line manager is very open-minded about flexible and part-time working. This means that I have felt comfortable approaching him with requests to amend my working patterns. For a few months earlier this year, for example, my wife needed to change her work pattern to accommodate a client secondment. This required me to do an extra nursery pick-up. My line manager agreed this without hesitation, trusting that I would do what was needed to ensure that all of my client work gets done on time. It helps that my line manager is very family-oriented. Although his children are now grown-up, he is still very supportive of my family commitments. In addition, the other member of my team is supportive of my arrangements, only contacting my in emergencies on my day out of the office and also stepping in to assist with my matters on the day that I am out of the office on the few occasions where I am not able to deal with things remotely.
The approach and mindset of the individual is also crucial. Flexibility has to be seen as a two-way street, particularly given the client imperative in a professional services firm. There are times, therefore, where I have had to work on Fridays to ensure client needs are met. And, in reality, I do not only work a four-day week. Evening and weekend working is often required to ensure that everything gets done - my chargeable client hours target may be reduced, but the know-how and business development commitments are no different to those of my full-time colleagues.
I appreciate that I am extremely lucky to work in such a supportive environment, and to be able to combine a job that I enjoy with family commitments. I only hope that more employers start to take such a positive approach and embrace flexible working in practice as well as principle so that it can start to be seen as the norm, rather than an exception.
Matt is a senior associate at a City law firm. Prior to joining his current company he worked for over 8 years at a Magic Circle law firm. He has a four year-old daughter and would like to add another child, a dog, a cat and a few rabbits to the family (although his wife is yet to be persuaded….)
Category: A Cityfather's Diary