How flexible is “flexible working” really?

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For the second year in a row, Norstat UK helped with a research and data analysis for the annual PRCA census. During a period of one month our UK Managing Director Rosie Ayoub and I, together with our PRCA friends, visited all parts of the UK presenting it to PR professionals. We’ve been in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Midlands, South West, Wales and of course London. I personally travelled to Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham and Belfast. After presenting data we gathered for 2019, there usually was an extremely interesting conversation amongst attendees about some key issues and one of them, were challenges and benefits of flexible working.

It turned out that the most common forms of flexible working are flexitime - flexible start and finish times (41%), working from home at least one day a week (31%), and shorter working days (12%). The number of people working flexitime has increased by 8% this year and the number of people working from home at least one day a week has dropped by 2%. 10% of the PR industry work part-time: 12% of women do so, and 7% of men do so. Around 75% of those who work part-time do so because they are responsible for maintaining a family and a home. Overwhelmingly, 83% of part-time women do so for this reason, compared to 40% of part-time men. 31% do not take advantage of any flexible working arrangements, which is down by 4% since 2018.

Unfortunately, it is mostly senior staff members who are more likely to work from home. 43% of Managing Directors and 50% of Directors do so at least once a week. In comparison, only 10% of Account Executives do the same.

How does it relate to the market research industry, you might ask? Well, a week ago I had a pleasure of attending the MRS Speaker Evening, where panel of senior professionals discussed different perspectives on flexible working in the research industry. It turned out that findings for our industry are quite similar. For example, when looking for a new career opportunity people holding senior positions ask most of the time about their new salaries and flexible working schemes. Surprisingly it is not the case for junior staff members, as they rarely inquire about it (flexible working that is, not the money). Is it because they don’t care? No, not at all! They do care a lot but quite a lot of them realise that it is most likely just another catchy phrase, which in reality is not going to apply to them on regular basis.

So, how flexible is ‘flexible working’ really? It seems that unless you have an established position in the organisation you are part of and hold at least a senior position, there will always be limitations to what is available for you. Perhaps it would not be such a bad idea to invite to a panel conversation at least one junior staff member next time we want to discuss this issue. As everybody seems to be very passionate about highlighting the benefits of flexible working, it is only possible to make sure it applies equally to all workforce if we listen carefully to what they have to say too. I wonder who dares to be first one to do it.

The above thoughts are taken from:

  • PRCA PR Census 2019
  • MRS Speaker Evening: “Flexible working – making it work for research and insight”