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The final frontier: Allowing PAs to work flexibly
Recently we were invited to talk about flexible working at The PA Club’s January Discussion Forum. It was a lively session of PAs and Team Leaders from a number of industries including the legal and accounting sector.
It’s great to attend a session like this, particularly when everyone is so passionate about the subject. It is fair to say that not everyone attending the Forum currently works flexibly, but many do and some have a surprising degree of flexibility in their roles. It was good to see the PA profession taking flexibility so seriously.
Here is some of the advice that came out of the discussion, with a few pearls of wisdom from us on how to make flexible working work, starting with the different types of flexible working on offer. Of the attendees, most work a mix of options 2, 3 and 5.
- Job sharing – Two people do one job and split the hours.
- Working from home – It might be possible to do some or all of the work from home or anywhere else other than the normal place of work.
- Part time – Working less than full-time hours (usually by working fewer days).
- Compressed hours – Working full-time weekly hours but over fewer days.
- Flexitime or staggered hours – The employee chooses when to start and end work (within agreed limits) but works certain ‘core hours’, for example 10am to 4pm every day.
- Annualised hours – The employee has to work a certain number of hours over the year but they have some flexibility about when they work. There are sometimes ‘core hours’ which the employee regularly works each week, and they work the rest of their hours flexibly or when there’s extra demand at work.
- Phased retirement – Default retirement age has been phased out and older workers can choose when they want to retire. This means they can reduce their hours and work part time.
One of the attendees asked a very interesting question: Are we asking for an industry standard to get rid of terms such as part-time and move towards flexible working to encompass all types of arrangements? In our opinion, many firms (that we work with anyway) are doing this, some even call it agile working because part-time is only one type of arrangement. However, for other firms who may not be as progressive, part-time is the most obvious arrangement and flexible working in any guise is still too scary an option
Formal v informal
The attendees had a mixture of formal arrangements, where their agreement had been written into their contract and HR were involved, and informal arrangements with their partner /manager. Many who had the informal arrangement flexed their hours accordingly and worked evenings or early mornings so they could, for example, pick up their children from school, miss the commute, etc. Some could choose their working from home days dependent on whether their boss might be travelling or out of the office. However, this was not an option for all.
Arrangements that work
It was a real eye opener for some to hear how restrictive like-minded companies could be and, while attendees appreciated some roles do not lend themselves very well to working from home, many were genuinely surprised that some firms still do not consider allowing PAs to work from home. For some firms, the whole department would have ‘core days’ in the office – for example, Tuesday and Thursday – including PAs and then could work the rest from home if they so wished. The sharing of stories highlighted to those who were practising flexible working how lucky they were. But based on the numbers in the room, they are clearly still in the minority. For some flexible working has had a huge impact on their lives: ‘My kids really saw the difference in me. I am no longer stressed about either them or the job.’
Advice on how to successfully negotiate a flexible working contract (formally or informally)
Everyone had their own story to tell but the common threads were:
- Have a good working relationship with your manager or team. They need to champion you and have got to believe that flexible is possible.
- Research – what is available already, are there common practices taking place that you can look into?
- Focus on your manager’s needs – how will it benefit you is important but it is equally important for your manager, team and the business as a whole.
- Put yourself in your manager’s shoes and think of the impact your request may have and address the solutions.
- Think about the team – you may want to work certain days, say, Mon – Wed, but is it better to work Tues – Thurs to fit in with the team’s needs?
- Ask for a trial period – three months is a good starting point.
- Don’t feel guilty for having agreed your arrangement – from what we heard all the PAs had plenty of examples where they went the extra mile but it seemed they had good working relationships with the mangers in the first place to make it happen!
- If your firm, manager, team cannot afford you the flexibility you need, look elsewhere. Everyone believed there were roles out there if they kept trying. One of the attendees had had a number of roles before she found what she called her perfect role and is now very happy. She said, ‘for all the no’s there is a yes for everybody.’
We hadn’t heard of this but some train lines now offer smart card flexi season tickets so employees only need to pay for the days they travel! Looks like some of the travel companies have responded well to the increasing demand for flexible working. It is certainly not going away, so we wonder how long before others follow suit – likewise for those employers who are not quite walking the flexible working walk!