Flexible hours: When working 9 to 5 is no way to make a living

Colette Sexton, news correspondent at The Sunday Business Post, on how to get the working hours that suit you.

Not everyone’s life fits neatly into the standard Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. For whatever reason, some of us need to start earlier and finish earlier, or start later and finish later, or work just four days or week on/week off. But it can be hard to broach the topic of flexible working with your employer, particularly as there is no legislation here to back you up.

Many countries, including Britain, the USA and Australia, have legislation which allows for flexible working. Unfortunately, Ireland does not have any flexible working legislation - although there is a statutory right to request changes to working hours or patterns of work, which is limited to employees returning from parental leave.

Employers might be under no legal obligation to allow you to work the hours that suit you, but you can gently persuade them to come around to your way of thinking.

The legislation might not be in your favour, the research is. Flexible workers actively ‘craft’ their work environments to improve their own efficiency and that of their colleagues, they help out colleagues more and are more focused in their work effort, according to a study from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service in Britain. Managers also found that flexible workers were more organised and productive, the ACAS report said.

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Armed with the research behind you, your first port of call, according to Catherine Corcoran, head of management consulting at accounting and business advisory firm RSM Ireland, should be to see if there are formal flexible working policies in place in your workplace. In the public sector there are clearly defined policies but these are not a given in private sector organisation.

“Policy or no policy, procedure or no procedure, the advice I would give to those searching for flexible working is to be flexible themselves,” Catherine said.

Before approaching the employer, consider all the various types of flexible working – job-sharing, compressed hours, home working, term time working, staggered hours, flexitime, part-time, annualised hours - and figure out which one would suit you and your employer best.

When discussing flexible working with your boss, make sure that you stick to facts, not emotion. Telling them you can’t start work at 8am because you will miss your favourite pilates class is hardly going to win them over. Instead, explain how flexible working will allow you to work more effectively and efficiently for the company. Tell them you will get more done working from home, or you will be more productive if you work fewer hours, or, the big winner, you will cost them less money if you have a shorter working week.

“A central consideration will be how the job will get done in a flexible working scenario. Building up a convincing case around this will be a great selling point,” according to Catherine.

Employers vary in terms of their attitude to flexible working but Catherine said she thinks that is changing rapidly as employers begin to realise that results rather than time is the currency of work.

If they are reluctant to agree to a change in your working hours immediately, ask your boss for a trial period and during that time, prove to them that you can make the change work, not just for you but to the benefit of the company too.

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