Flexible working is a concept that is being discussed on a much wider scale than ever before and the legal profession may still have a long way to go.
Organisations are introducing the idea of returning to the old way of working which was a 9 to 5 set hours, required people to take an hour for lunch, work their life around their work and spend 100% of their time in the office. To go back to this model as a blanket rule for everyone is not going to be possible now as people now want more freedom and flexibility. Being restrictive with employees shows a lack of trust in their ability to get on with their work and manage their day to suit their needs affecting their ability to manage their stress levels and stay engaged.
To understand whether an organisation is being flexible, we have to understand what flexible working is and how it can be different for so many people.
It could be working in a different location to where their employer is based, working different patterns throughout the day to their colleagues, pursuing other passions whilst working around this, starting their own business all the while meeting their deadlines and being available at virtual meetings. It is essentially whichever way the employee wants to work to be able to have the flexibility they need and at the same time allowing the employer to serve customers effectively.
In June 2021, the UK government introduced the Flexible Working Bill which is yet to be implemented but indicates the need to give employees more concrete rights when it comes to flexible working requests and we are likely to see further developments emerge.
Slaughter & May have launched 3 types of working arrangements for its employees:
“Switch on/off” allowing lawyers to cut down the number of hours they work over the course of a year in return for a reduction in pay.
Contracting lawyers have the option to take unpaid leave in between projects.
Job share — associates can share their jobs with another associate to be able to reduce their hours at the same or different levels.
On the other hand companies such as Goldman Sachs have required all staff to return to the office five days a week. This has not been welcomed by all its employees seeing the start of the great resignation as people exit their workplace to something that fits in with their personal life something which has become so widespread as mindsets shift.
People have been working flexibly for years, it is not a new concept that has emerged because of the global pandemic and was previously seen as pioneering for somebody to take one day off a week or work from home mid week. This is part of the problem with the mindset in the workplace that to be able to reach your full potential in your career we all have to follow set criteria at the same pace and in the same order and be physically present 5 days a week, 8.5 hours or more at a desk.
This is a very restrictive way of thinking because it doesn’t allow each individual to grow independently and develop their career in the way they want to. It means you are following the aims and career goals of the organisation you work for rather than yourself.
Flexible working shouldn’t have to be justified — if an employee is not a working mother it doesn’t mean that they don’t have a right to flexible working arrangements and essentially it comes down to trust — that employees are trusted to do the job that they were hired for.