Flexible working where you'd least expect

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Many firms claim flexible working ‘won’t work’ for them. These examples prove there are options for everyone

It’s taken a while but finally the words ‘flexible working’ are no longer synonymous with frazzled parents looking to combine work and family. Neither is a flexible approach purely associated with white collar office jobs where people can organise their time neatly around deadlines, working from behind a screen wherever that screen might be.

With a growing number of employees demanding more flexibility, the vast majority of industries must take heed. As Kirstie Axtens, head of employer services at Working Families, says: “[Flexible working] has been extended to more employees who work in a wide range of jobs and industries. If you’re not flexible you run the risk of losing people and falling behind.”

We talk to three very different organisations about how they’re offering workers a surprising degree of flexibility, considering the roles and sectors they’re in.

Ministry of Defence (MoD)

Despite the huge variety of work involved in delivering its services, the MoD has a long history of offering flexible working. However, one of the main challenges has been overcoming the misperception that working in the armed forces isn’t compatible with flexibility.

According to group captain Clive Montellier, MoD terms of service and career management policy lead, this misperception is “as much in the minds of the individual as their line manager or commander”. He adds: “This isn’t just about writing good policies. The real secret is empowering our people to have honest conversations that lead to solutions that work for the individual and the business.”

Another misconception is that working flexibly is ‘letting the team down’. That’s why Montellier feels so strongly about getting the message across that it’s just doing a job in a different way. Role-modelling, as he does, is important; he lives on-site during the week but works locally on Fridays in order to have more time with his family.

In recent years the MoD has put much focus on making practices more visible. “It’s important that, while the circumstances of the individual and their working environment will vary massively, there’s consistency to ensure fairness,” Montellier says.

There are two main areas for flexibility: leave and working hours. Employees can opt to take both paid and unpaid leave, can transfer leave between years, and can take career “intermissions” of varying lengths. Workers can vary their start and finish times, choose to work compressed hours, and work from home.

Offering this level of flexibility is vital to retention. “It’s critical that when tension arises between someone’s service and personal commitments we do what we can to help them achieve the right balance,” says Montellier. “A bit of flexibility at a critical time might be just what’s needed to keep that valuable individual for the long term. The benefits far outweigh the investment in time and effort.”

Check back tomorrow to read what West Midlands Police is doing to embrace flexible working

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