Taking control of work-life balance shouldn’t just be for the self-employed

The rise in the number of female entrepreneurs shows how highly flexibility is valued – now let’s open it up to everyone, says Karen Mattison MBE, Joint CEO of Timewise.

Karen MattisonThe news that the number of self-employed women has risen by 50% in the past decade has rightly been seen as a celebration of female entrepreneurship. But whilst we’re as delighted as anyone to see individuals taking control of their own work-life balance, we’re aware that the lack of flexible roles in the employment market is a key factor in this change – and that’s not quite such good news.

As a joint study by notonthehighstreet.com and Oxford Economics into small creative businesses has found: “The greater flexibility, control and satisfaction of those surveyed is unquestionable: 95% now feel a greater sense of achievement and 90% enjoy life more and feel happier as a result of starting their own business.” And a previous report by the CIPD into flexible working in general painted a similar picture, with 73% of employers saying that it improved staff motivation[1].

Millions of people want flexibility – but the roles aren’t there

But for those individuals who aren’t able to set up on their own, or who haven’t been able to access flexible working, it’s looking a lot less rosy. Our research has indicated that there are more than 8.7 million people who aren’t currently in a flexible role who would like to be. Furthermore, a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimated there are 1.5 million people trapped in poorly paid part time jobs below their skill level, and over 400,000 people who can’t work unless they can find a part time or flexible job.

While some of these individuals may have the skills and experience to leave the workforce and set up their own business, there are many more, equally talented people who would flourish in employment, as long as it offered sufficient flexibility. But with only 1 in 10 job adverts being advertised as flexible at the point of hire, the jobs they need often just aren’t there.

Let’s open up the jobs market by offering flexibility up front

That’s why we’ve set up Hire Me My Way, a campaign calling on employers to offer flexibility at the point of hire. Our aim is to see 1 million jobs advertised flexibly by 2020, and we’ve signed up some fantastic organisations already. It’s in their interests to come on board: as well as making it easier to attract and retain the best talent, flexibility has been shown to increase productivity, improve diversity and help tackle the gender pay gap.

So for employers, it’s pretty simple. If you want to stem the flood of talented individuals leaving the workforce, and make sure you’re in a position to attract the very best candidates, you need to get on board with flexible working. Start thinking about how to design jobs with built-in flexibility; not just for your existing employees, but for the ones you haven’t hired yet. Create a culture and structure that celebrate flexibility at all levels. And show you mean business, by being part of our campaign.

As the notonthehighstreet.com report notes: “No longer chained to 9 to 5 careers, the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s small creative businesses have set their own rules of the game and are contributing to a significant shift in attitudes to traditional work models as a result.” For those of us in the flexible working sphere, this shift in attitudes can’t come quickly enough.

[1] CIPD 2012: Flexible working provision and uptake