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Emma Sue Prince



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Summertime and the workin’ is easy…


It’s August, the “silly” month where not much happens. A change to take stock, recharge batteries, whether at home or away. As I write this, I am sitting in my garden, I’ve been for a swim and I feel relaxed and energised. Most of my working days are like this. Apart from London meetings and travel abroad to conduct seminars or consultancy, my work fits in around my family and things that I enjoy and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I also work incredibly hard and am more productive than anyone I know. Sure, I have deadlines and times when work can be stressful but most of the time, I’ve never felt better.

Yet I also know what it is like to work crazy hours, never be home and to feel stressed and burned out. And I will never go back to that lifestyle.

Flexible working does not always get a positive rap. Why is that? Here in the UK, recent media response to the news that civil servants were going to be working from home during the Olympics sparked this headline: “A gold medal for skiving” implying that working from home is the easy option and that not much work is actually getting done. However, the opposite is actually true. Those who have the option to work flexibly, whether that is by working only at home, or one day a week or just having “moveable” hours at their place of work are more engaged, more productive and less likely to leave. For example, many corporate accounting firms allow their workers to reduce their hours, do some work from home, take the summer off and even take a few years off and return. Why? Well, being accountants, they do the numbers. They know it costs 1.5 times an annual salary to replace someone who leaves.

And did you know that  studies have shown that the average office worker does only 1.5 hours of actual work per day. The rest of the time is spent socializing, taking coffee breaks, eating, engaging in non-business communication, shuffling papers, and doing lots of other non-work tasks. The average full-time office worker doesn’t even start doing real work until 11:00am and begins to wind down around 3:30pm.  Hmmm.  Productivity should measure what is actually being achieved rather than the amount of time spent at work.

For working mums like me, flexible work is a lifestyle choice. In Gaby Hinsliffs’  book Half a Wife”, argues that to achieve a healthy work-life balance, dual-income parents need to somehow incorporate two days of “wife-time” – two days during the working week which can be devoted to tasks that were traditionally undertaken by the stay-at- home partner. These two days are achieved by, ideally, both parents reducing or rearranging their working hours. It’s also achieved by flexible work. My own work enables me to rise early and work and plan my day the way I want. Fortunately, I can choose to work in the evenings, early mornings, whenever I want to. What’s important to me is to have time to enjoy my family, cook, bake cakes and sing in my gospel choir as well as have a rewarding career. And when I travel or need to be at set meetings, my husband steps in.

And isn’t this kind of work-life balance equally important for people without children who want to also have time to pursue their own interests?  In Holland they’ve been doing it this way for years – working part-time and working flexibly is a powerful tool for retaining talent. People want a flexible work-week that allows them to have time for other interests as well as for family, if they have one and many don’t.

Hinsliff says that independent self-employment is the way forward. And I think she is right. Technology has been as revolutionary to women as the Pill once was. But the workplace itself is changing. Jobs for life are long gone. The portfolio career is common and those who have been made redundant are having to reinvent themselves.

By 2030, over one third of the workforce will be aged 50 with potentially no default retirement age. Many of them will be primary carers for elderly relatives. Technically savvy, they will demand working flexibility to cope with demands on their time. Meanwhile, Generation Y will enter the workplace as the “networked” generation, raised in a connected, relationship-driven world, blurring the edges between work and personal life. They will seek out modern employers who best meet their need for technology and flexibility.

The CEO and founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, says in his new book The Start-up of You” that we are natural entrepreneurs and it is the entrepreneurial way of thinking that will help us in this new era. We need to rediscover these instincts and embrace flexible work and the opportunities it brings us.

Enjoy August!


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Emma Sue Prince


Read more from Emma Sue Prince

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