Flexible working is for men!
My name is Patrick Alleyne and I am not a stay at home dad but very much employed in a busy and demanding role. I work flexibly but not for family/caring reasons unless caring for yourself and looking after your own wellbeing counts? I work for London regional government and my organisation is hugely supporting of flexible working.
For several years, I have worked a nine-day fortnight. So, every couple of weeks I manage to have a day out of the office, mostly entirely for me. Unlike some of my colleagues who also work a nine-day fortnight, I don’t have a set day off in each two-week cycle. In practice I go through my diary at six months at a time and randomly book my days off and put those days into my boss’ calendar, so she knows when I am not going to be around. One significant advantage of this is being able to have a slightly longer weekend by tagging my day off to the bank holiday weekend. It also works when I take leave as I can plan an extra day at the beginning or end of my leave.
For as long as I can remember I have always had a degree of flexibility in the way I have worked. For example, if I needed to come in late or leave early was never a problem. It was done on a simple give and take basis and there was a high degree of trust. Working longer than my standard contractual hours meant that it was not uncommon for my boss to simply say “that’s fine” when I requested a bit of flexibility, and there was no requirement to “make up” the hours.
About seven or eight years ago, I formally requested flexible working. I discussed it with my line manager during my performance review and my request was immediately granted. We discussed the practicalities including building in six monthly reviews and so it started. I was not asked whether I wanted a flexible working pattern for caring responsibilities or to balance home and work etc, my line manager simply said yes, let’s give it a try. At the time I made the request my daughters travelled to school and back independently. They left home to go to school at the same time my wife left to go work and were rarely at home for more than 15 minutes or so before my wife returned from work. More often than not, my wife was actually home before them as then tended to dawdle on the way home often choosing to wait for a bus when walking would have been quicker.
So, what on earth do I do with all this time off – let’s face it I get an additional 26 days off each year? Well it allows me to do some of the things that would get squeezed into a weekend. Washing the car, cutting the lawns and hedges, going for a walk around the shops can all get done on my day off. It also allows me to commit more of my time to my Governor’s duties; I am a school governor. Governors’ meetings work to a cycle and when in a series of meetings were it not for my flexible working I would have to spend time in the evenings reading papers and preparing. Working flexibly also enables me to book medical appointments, get the car serviced, or wait in for deliveries all without having to take time off from work.
I love my working pattern and would not want to revert to working a standard five-day week for love nor money. I still work longish hours on the days I am at work, but having that day off every fortnight offers me a chance to recharge the batteries and relieve some of the natural stresses and pressures of the job. Even when reading Governors’ papers, the change is as good as a rest. I believe that overall, I have a good balance between my professional responsibilities and the amount of ‘me time’ that I enjoy. I should also say that being off every couple of weeks does encourage my wife to occasionally map out small errands for me, but that’s okay; I have the time to do it. I am not always busy running errands and sorting out aspects of my life on my days off, sometimes I just stay in bed to mid-morning. Other days I will go to the gym early and get back home around 9:30 am. Then it’s feet up, cup of coffee or tea and a doze – bliss!!
There is so much talk still of the gender based old fashioned so-called traditional model of working. Men work full time and that’s that. I do see this changing but probably far too slowly. I have never considered myself a flag bearer, but I have no problem in extolling the merits of flexible working and think that as a man who is embracing work in this way, I suppose I am role modelling for other men. I said earlier I work in an organisation which fully supports all staff wanting to work flexibly – whatever that might look like.
There are so many people around me that work in this way, both men and women, that it feels really alien when I talk to people who tell me horror stories about the threats to their career for the audacity to ask for flexible working. Or when people say to me they dare not ask for flexible working as it would most likely be met with a NO! I am therefore cocooned in this bubble where flexibility is the norm not the exception. That’s what we need to work towards!
I am no shrinking violet and have no problem in telling anyone who wants to listen that I work a nine-day fortnight. Sometimes I am sure I tell people who are not really interested either. I am a huge advocate for flexible working and think that more men should try it. I know in some organisations it can feel like it is a risk to ask but I would say that you need to think about your presentation when asking. So, for example, offering to change your working pattern when work requires it might remove a line manager’s fear that the flexibility will only go one way.
Telling your boss that you will keep an eye on emails and respond to critical stuff when you have a big deal going through, for example, would also be reassuring to the organisation. Letting them know that you won’t be working any less hard and that you are still committed to your role and organisation should be well received. Try to sell the positive e.g. that having a chance to recharge your batteries through flex working will probably aid your productivity. I am not naïve, none of this is easy and it there is a long way to go to turn the way my organisation operates into the norm across lots of organisations.
We men must be prepared to make a stand. I have heard all sorts of stories about women being granted flexible working because the organisation is scared that a refusal will result in a discrimination claim; I believe that’s nonsense, but that’s for different day. Just as women benefit from flexible working why should not men. In my case is it not about caring responsibilities but more men nowadays want to have a more active role in family life and if flexible working creates that opportunity, organisations need to respond positively.
For some of my male colleagues, I know they leave early to go to parents’ evening or to do a school run. There is no stigma in my organisation because it is the norm, but this is not always the case. Why this should be an issue in today’s day and age is a mystery. We all have laptops, mobile phones, and access to Wi-Fi. So, leaving early might mean you are off the grid for the final couple of hours of a day, but dealing with emails or writing a report in the evening means you can still be productive and catch up so that you are up to speed the next day.
Another bi product of having flexibility in your working pattern which came from my own experience, is that by being able to do the school run fairly regularly when my girls were young, enabled me to have a fairly good relationship with the teachers at their school. I did not have to be reintroduced at each parent’s evening because that was the only time they ever saw me. I also had good relationships with other parents, most of whom were women doing the drop offs and pickups, again because I was a regular at the school gates. I don’t recall there being a mums’ closed shop to which men were not admitted.
Men working flexibly is a gender-based bastion that must be broken down and the only way to do this is for more men to be brave and to demand flexible working. When men start voting with their feet and seeking out organisations that support flexible work I think we will start to normalise this, and the less progressive organisations will sit up and take note. In fact, I keep hearing that millennials expect flexible working to be the norm and not an additional employee benefit. If that is true, and I have no reason to disbelieve it, then the revolution is underway and flexible working for men will become normalised.