Workshop speakers share innovative models of flexible working

It’s National Work-Life Week and usually the week when we bring a couple of hundred guests together for a morning of celebration of family friendly working, at our annual Family Friendly Employer Awards in the beautiful surroundings of Galgorm Resort and Spa. As we didn’t feel the time was quite right to have the Awards this year, instead we hosted a virtual workshop on flexible working, via Zoom. With around 40 attendees from employers both in Northern Ireland and GB, the workshop heard from a number of speakers who are leading the way in flexible working, either within their own organisations or at a campaigning level.

Following a warm welcome from Employers For Childcare Chief Executive, Marie Marin, the workshop was addressed by Kate Jarman, co-founder of the FlexNHS campaign, whose pioneering work to further the cause of flexible working in the NHS we have been following for a number of years. Kate highlighted some of the challenges of progressing the flex agenda in a large organisation like the NHS (such as the need to deliver a 24 hour service and the rota/shift work system) and stressed that this is a ‘people’ issue not just a parent one and is an issue for everyone – whatever their job role and whatever the reason behind the request to work flexibly.

Given the nature of the NHS working from home isn’t possible for everyone, but it’s important not to confuse working from home with flexibility as the experience during Covid-19 has been that working from home, for some, has been invasive and intrusive. Kate’s big focus was on agility and how to make flexible working agile and about improving workplace culture, encouraging managers and leaders to ‘say yes’ to flexibility and find a way to make it work. It’s vital that the conversation around flexibility is normalised and that leaders act as visible role models – also that there doesn’t have to be a bar to meet to qualify. She welcomed the recent change to NHS conditions making the right to request flexible working accessible from day 1 of employment and referred to the wider Government consultation around this which is currently open. In closing, she shared the ethos behind the FlexNHS campaign “we don’t care how or when or where you work. We care that you do what you do.”

The second speaker was Maurece Hutchinson, Managing Director of JMK Solicitors who have implemented a four day working week for all staff, with no reduction in pay. Maurece set out the background to the project (which involved staff relocating to Lanzarote for a month in February!) and the two year research project which they engaged in prior to implementation in early 2020. Maurece addressed some of the myths around the 4 day week initiative (that it would lead to a pay cut, represented compressed hours or would lead to a reduction in holidays) and some of the challenges they faced, including unexpected resistance and kickback from staff but spoke positively of the benefits to the organisation. These include environmental benefits, greater productivity, reduction in unplanned absences and lower staff turnover resulting in reduced recruitment costs. She shared some really useful tips for others including the importance of empowering staff and letting them take the lead, the key role of technology and the need to learn as you go and adapt, but in closing her presentation, shared the words of a staff member, which are a powerful testimony of the success of the project “sure why would you want to work anywhere else”.

JMK Lanzarote 2

Next to address the workshop was John Megaughin, owner of Holywood based PR agency Clearbox Communications. John outlined his experience of implementing an initiative whereby his employees can take unlimited annual leave, which was introduced in response to feedback from staff indicating some were finding it difficult to switch off from the 24/7 world of PR. John outlined how this worked in practice in his organisation (no more than two staff from a team to be off at a time and staff ‘sorting it out’ among themselves to make sure cover is in place and clients are supported) and some of the ‘growing pains’ experienced as everyone adjusted to the new system. In assessing the success of the initiative John was honest in saying it works primarily because their teams trust and support each other and it’s a key way of building freedom and responsibility and a better overall work culture. Interestingly 75% of staff have used more than their normal allocation of annual leave in the year to date, with the rest on course to do so before the end of the year including crucially, managers, who are leading by example. Overall the company has improved in its ongoing wellness survey, but John hasn’t yet decided if the initiative will continue into 2022 in the context of the emergence from Covid-19 and the greater freedom of travel and other opportunities available to employees.

The last speaker of the morning was Aoife Hamilton, Head of Charity Services at Employers For Childcare who outlined the benefits to employers of providing flexible and family friendly working policies to employees. Sharing the results of last year’s Northern Ireland Childcare Survey, Aoife indicated that 84% of respondents said they would be more loyal and likely to remain with their employer if they took a more flexible or family friendly approach going forward – with 77% saying it would help to increase their productivity. She outlined how Employers For Childcare can support employers interested in learning more about introducing flexible and family friendly working policies, including through the services of the Family Benefits Advice Service and our Family Friendly Employer Guide. Aoife concluded her presentation by making a call to all those attending to get in touch with the Family Benefits Advice Service to set up an outreach or advice session for their employees, to support them in accessing all the financial support they are entitled to, including with childcare.

The workshop finished with a lively question and answer session with great engagement from attendees, all very keen to probe our expert speakers further and benefit from their learning and advice. Workshop chair Marie Marin closed the session, thanking all of our speakers and attendees for their participation.

All of the presentations from the workshop are available to download at the top of the page and you can re-watch the session below. Employers wishing to learn more about implementing family friendly or flexible working policies, can download our Family Friendly Employer Guide here or can contact the Family Benefits Advice Service on 028 9267 8200 for free, impartial and confidential advice.

Watch the video


Rewatch our workshop for employers on flexible working - highlighting how this can benefit employers as well as supporting employees.