Inspiring inclusion through flexible working

Rachael Hunnisett is Associate Director of the Green Finance Institute. Here, she discusses her experience of flexible working and it's benefits for both productivity and work life balance.

I’ve long been a champion of flexible working. I believe that a happy workforce who are able to minimise squandering their days off with unpaid domestic work are more productive and have a far better work/life balance.

I was overjoyed to learn that the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 provides a right to request flexible working from the first day of employment, reduces wait times for decisions to be made and removes the requirement for an employee to explain the effect of the change on the employer.

A learning curve

After my second child was born, I requested to compress my working hours into four working days. I had to make an application to my employer with an accompanying business plan, which I presented face-to-face while on maternity leave.

The first business plan was rejected so I had to re-work the figures and upon the second submission, I was granted a three-month trial which came with performance targets which needed to be met in order for the compressed week to be made permanent.

This process was clunky and stressful. While on maternity leave, I didn’t have access to my work computer, nor did I have childcare support to enable me to travel to present my business plan.

Getting into London meant my child’s dad had to take a day off work, precious annual leave days which were needed for summer holiday care for our oldest child. I cobbled together the business plan during the rare occasions when my baby was asleep for long enough for me to hold a thought together.

I don’t blame the process for how stressful this was – this was long before flexible working was widely embedded. I was the first person to request to compress my hours in my department and everyone who had had a baby in the same role before me had left.

The leadership team’s hands were tied to some extent by untested HR processes; they were truly trying to make sure I was able to do the job they were paying me to do, and genuinely concerned about how on earth I would manage it.

The point was I did manage it – I thrived on it. I was so grateful when my trial was made permanent. I worked incredibly hard for an organisation which I loved and went on to win awards for my performance and contribution in that role.

There is nobody more productive than a working parent who wants to prove their worth. If only the system had acknowledged that sooner.

Flexible working doesn’t mean doing less – it means doing things more efficiently.

Crucially, it provides a vital lifeline for some, and a life of their choosing for many more. It doesn’t need to be either/or any longer.

A new way of working

Fast-forward to my latest role at the Green Finance Institute, I was refreshed to see that my contract states how many hours I am expected to work, rather than the hours in which I am required to work them. I don’t need to have a formal compression of hours agreement as I’m measured on my outputs, not presenteeism.

I finish work early on Fridays to pick up my kids from school. If I wake up very early and the mood takes me to plough through some work, I am grateful that my contract gives me the space to do that. As we move forward with a modern workforce, I see this becoming the norm, and I celebrate how far we’ve come.

I would love to see more organisations embrace flexible working; for the Flexible Working Act to become a vital tool in the toolbox of modern employers and for team members to feel empowered to deliver their absolute best at work while balancing their home life and leisure time. Forbes reported that happy workforces are 20% more productive.

I’m not suggesting that flexible working is the silver bullet for work/life balance.

However, it’s a great first step for many!