Imagine this: You wake up in the morning and make yourself a tea. You clamber back into bed, and two minutes later, you’re on a conference call with your boss and client. Then you’re writing up a presentation. All this, from the comfort of your own bed, in the jammies your ma bought you for Christmas. This is flexible working at its best (or worst, depending on your stance on duvet days).
So, what is flexible working? Namely it’s made for you, the worker, giving you a way of working that suits your needs best, whether that’s having flexible start and finishing times, working from home, compressed hours, job sharing or finishing early on a Friday. It’s become an ever-more popular way of working – for the employee, of course, but employers are also seeing the benefits.
In September last year, the Trade Union Council suggested introducing a four-day week as part of its annual report into how changes in the workplace could benefit staff. A crucial part of the report states that employees would work for four days, but be paid for five, which sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me.
There would, of course, be obvious benefits to this kind of schedule: a 28-hour week means the long, dragging hours of our working day would just be a bad memory. It was stated that it would be management’s responsibility to try and utilise the time that employees are actually in the office more efficiently to improve their lack of productivity, the idea being that happier workers make for more fruitful workers. But the inch of freedom is also meant to make staff feel more loyal to the company.
Because let’s be honest, how much more respect would you have for your boss if they let you work from home one day a week? How much harder would you work knowing you were trusted with a four-day week on a five-day salary? And naysayers may say that this kind of work pattern leads to lazy employees, but the evidence thus far would prove them wrong.
The most famous case for the four-day week comes from a New Zealand company by the name of Perpetual Guardian. They were one of the first to put a reduced week into practice in 2018 and saw nothing but positive results– apparently, work from employees remained up to standard, teamwork increased, and stress went down, so much so that they’ve decided to keep going with the ‘experiment’ and their founder has even done a TED Talk on the subject.
Is it really any wonder that flexible working has worked out so well for those that have tried it? Even the tiniest bit of flexibility is a nice relief. If you’ve ever worked at an Amazon-style corporation, the kind that times how long your toilet breaks are and the speed at which you walk back to your desk, you no doubt appreciate those little moments in your next job where you can pee freely without the beep of a stopwatch outside your cubicle door. Flexibility gives workers an element of control which shows respect and thus breeds it – it tells workers that they’re trusted to do a job and do it well on their own terms, and because of this freedom that’s what they are willing to provide.
So, after all that positivity, are there actually any downsides to flexible working? Well, yes – but it’s minor. It is likely to present a certain conundrum to some people, particularly for those that are working from home: do we end up losing sight of what a working day looks like? There have been times when I have worked from home where I will make myself a tea and grab my laptop for work when I wake up at 8.30am, when my working hours don’t actually start until 9.30am.
When you’re working from home, it’s all-too-easy for the lines to become blurred between work time and home time. Not only this, but with technology at your fingertips, your work tends to follow you everywhere. You can check your emails on your phone from the sofa, or let your work seep into your evening routine, creating spreadsheets when you’re watching your favourite TV show. It doesn’t feel bad at the time, but the concept of it isn’t great; it’s a sign that you’re finding it hard to detach. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t work from home – I’m all for avoiding a lengthy commute and conference calling without a bra on. But I think you must be the disciplined type, because without actually leaving the office for the day it can be hard to get a sense that the working day is over.
Besides this, I feel like flexible working could be the vindication millennials need in their work lives. Millennials have been referred to as ‘The Burnout Generation’. This means we’re constantly living with the feeling that we have to work continuously in order to keep our heads above water. This is certainly something I’ve felt before, particularly when I first moved to London as a sprightly 25-year-old with ambition but minimal experience under my belt. I really felt like I was late to the journo game and was convinced I could be the best journalist possible if I was just able to spread my literary seed. As a result, I ended up working my nine-to-five, and at weekends I was heading to a different office to work Saturdays and Sundays at a busy online newspaper. I was working for weeks without a day’s break. I’d freelance in the evenings for other publications, too. I was constantly thinking, “If I could just get through this bit, then I’ll be where I want to be.” But that moment never came, and it just got too stressful. I ended up suffering from panic attacks, unable to breathe at train stations and restaurants and sat on the edge of my bed with a towel wrapped round my hair.
This is millennial burnout at its most quintessential. There’s a constant need to prove ourselves, to prove our dedication. We feel as though it’s necessary to continuously push ourselves to our furthest limits, never giving ourselves time to breathe. We feel like we need to earn respect the hard way. Flexible working, in its myriad forms, would give millennials the confirmation that they need: that they are doing a good job, that they are trusted, and that their happiness is important. The ability to work from home at the weekends, or having access to a four-day week, or flexi time, would probably have been something that would have benefitted me when I was struggling.
Over four million people currently work from home, and it’s predicted that over half the UK workforce will be working remotely by 2020. I believe that flexi working is something that could really thrive when done right. We are due to start our own flexible working hours here at SheerLuxe this summer, finishing earlier on a Friday, and I’m looking forward to it starting. It feels uplifting, as a team of mostly millennials, that there’s a trust that has been placed in us, and a belief that great content is created by happy employees.