Timewise Joint CEO Karen Mattison MBE on flexible working, the Timewise Power 50 and the new work-less movement

Karen Mattison MBE, Joint CEO – Timewise

Since launching the Timewise Power List in 2012, Timewise has been bringing high-level flexible working out into the open, shining a light on senior people who work part-time, and encouraging others to follow suit. As this year’s winners are announced, and with recent research revealing that 1 in 4 people would like to work less if it didn’t affect their career progression, it’s time to stop thinking of flexible working as a women’s issue, and make it work for everyone.

Five years ago, when we launched the first Timewise Power List, the business conversation around flexible working was in its infancy. There was an overriding sense that it was only relevant to parents (which was understood to mean mothers), and an unchallenged assumption that it had a natural ceiling. As I heard, only too often, people really believed that: “There’s no way you can be a CEO on a four-day week.”

Yet we were sure that that wasn’t really the case. We had anecdotal evidence that there were people in the highest tax bracket who were working part-time – but where were they? When we dug deeper, we discovered that they were hiding in plain sight. 41% of senior people who worked part-time said they would never use those words because they would be negatively stereotyped, and 14% let colleagues assume they worked full-time hours.

2012: bringing high-level flexibility out into the open

So in 2012, we created the first Timewise Power List to challenge these assumptions; to celebrate the people who were working part-time at a senior level and to encourage others to believe that it was possible and plot their career paths accordingly.

In the intervening years we’ve not only championed 250 stunning individuals who are leaders in their respective fields; we’ve also changed the conversation around high-level flexibility. So much so, that these days, we’re more likely to hear: “It’s OK for CEOs; they have the authority to give themselves a part-time job. What about the rest of us?”

2018: celebrating different routes to senior flexibility

This year’s Timewise Power 50  launched today, acknowledges how much the conversation has changed. It salutes not just senior part-timers, but also those who have made other flexible models work, such as job sharing or starting their own business. It recognises the achievements of those who have come back to a flexible senior role after a career break. And it celebrates those who are climbing a flexible career ladder, and the employers who are making flexible recruitment and progression possible.

Today, 1 in 4 people want to work less

Yet despite the brilliant example that our Power 50 winners are setting, it’s fair to say that much of the focus on flexible working elsewhere still tends to be on where people work or when people work; remote working, or variable start and finish hours for example. And while the when and where are two important components of flexible job design, the third, how much people work, is just as important – now more than ever.

Our recent research has shown that 1 in 4 full-time employees would specifically prefer to work part-time, if it didn’t affect their pay-per-hour or career progression. That means there’s a growing number of people who either want to or need to work fewer hours than they currently do; the work-less movement, as we’ve coined it.

It’s worth noting that it isn’t just mums, or even parents, who feel this way; respondents cited a range of reasons for wanting to work part-time or flexibly, of which caring responsibilities was only the fourth highest. And although the desire is high across both sexes and all age groups, younger people want it most, with 92% of full-time 18-34 year olds either working flexibly already, or wishing they could (compared to 88% of 35-54 year olds and 72% of 55 and overs).

Employers need start designing future-fit flexible jobs

So in 2018, flexible working is no longer just a mum issue, but a business issue; and getting it right is a business imperative. Yes, proper thought-through part-time and flexible working can have a positive effect on female career progression and the gender pay gap; but it can also help businesses attract, motivate and keep talented people, cut overheads and increase both productivity and social mobility.

There’s no question that women will benefit from developments in flexible working; but businesses who are prepared to change stand to reap the biggest rewards. If we can get this right, the future of work will be a very different place.

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