Finding a Job

Flexible work is good for you and your career

Flexible work arrangements include flexible start and finish times, working reduced hours, working from home, working compressed hours and job sharing are most often associated with maintaining a good work/life balance.

Now a recent survey from the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute has found evidence not only on how best to balance work and life, but also how this balance can help you be more successful in your career.

The group studied 3,000 professional and managerial women and men from the UK and the US and found that a good work/life balance not only improves job satisfaction and employee retention, but is also linked to faster career progression.

Flexible working

The study investigated how flexible work arrangements influence the way people feel about their work/life balance and revealed that using at least one of the flexible work arrangements leads to significantly higher feelings of balance than not using any at all (75% and 60% respectively). This applies to both women and men in the study.

Two flexible work arrangements in particular are linked to stronger feelings of work/life balance: flexible start and finish times and job sharing. Unfortunately, not all flexible working options are readily available in majority of companies and often people do not make use of options available to them.

The results for flexible start and finish times are more encouraging, in fact they are the most prevalent form of flexible working in the sample of professional and managerial women and men. Almost three quarters (70%) of men and more than half (55%) of women state that they have access to flexible start and finish times and about three-quarters of those who have access to this type of flexible working make use of it.

A push up the career ladder

Flexible working arrangements are not only linked to higher feelings of balance and job satisfaction. Respondents in the survey who make use of flexible working arrangements are also significantly more likely to report having had two or more promotions over the past five years than those that do not (33% against 24%, respectively).

In particular, three flexible work arrangements are linked to increased promotions; working compressed hours, job sharing and working from home for at least part of the week.

Once again, few organisations offer compressed hours as a flexible working option: just one in five in the sample have access to compressed hours and even fewer (30%) of respondents say they actually use it.

Working from home is slightly more common as a flexible working option. In fact just over a third (37%) of men and just under half (47%) of women say their employer offers them the opportunity to work from home for part of the working week. Of those who have access, almost two thirds of men and women make use of it, making this another popular working choice alongside flexible start and finish times.

Career boost

Researcher Dr Ines Wichert says she believes there are two potential explanations of these findings. First, the small group of employers that do offer job sharing and working compressed hours, along with the more commonly available working from home, allow talented and driven employees to deliver results in career-enhancing, full-time roles in a way that still allows time for a family life, either by sharing the job with someone else, by compressing a five-day week into a four or 4.5 day week, or by saving on commuting time.

Alternatively, something else may be underpinning these results. Highly talented and valued employees, who have seen their careers advance fast in the past five years, may be in a stronger position to request job sharing or working compressed hours once the need for flexible working arises. Employers are keen to retain these strong employees and therefore more likely to agree to flexible working requests. Job sharing, working compressed hours and working from home will allow these high-flyers to continue delivering in important roles while experiencing a better balance with home and family life, thus creating a virtuous circle.

It almost doesn't matter whether accelerated careers come first and are followed by requests for more flexible working arrangements, or whether flexible working allows for career acceleration. These arrangements are clearly a priority for career fast-trackers and can be beneficial to all parties. Employers should listen and make them available more freely.

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GajGal is an expanding community of mothers helping mothers. Our motto “Get a Job | Get a Life” is based on the belief that for mothers wanting to get back into the workforce, finding a job with “the right level” of flexibility, empowers working mothers to live life on their own terms and better control their own destiny.
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