Time to embrace flex appeal?

Updated: May 26

Should PR put its people first? These agencies certainly think so...

Flexible working. A modern day conundrum for the professional world. And one that's proven infinitely hashtagable - #flexappeal, #flexforall#flexforwards anyone?

But the truth is while employers talk a good game on #workthatworks, the majority of us still operate around the same old 9-to-5 model... or thereabouts.

In public relations, this is compounded by a long hours culture and ‘always on’ nature of the job. Whether it’s working late to finish that new business pitch or being on call in case of a crisis.

We never really leave the office.

Most would agree that telling ourselves to pedal harder and faster is a false economy. A mantra that’s detrimental to our well-being and increases the risk of burnout. But the number of organisations that practice what they preach are few and far between. Albeit with some very notable exceptions…

I was heartened this week to learn that PR consultancy East Village in Birmingham has 'called time on inflexible working' for good.

In a bid to put its people first, the consumer agency is removing the traditional 9-to-5 altogether.

East Village wants to empower its employees to choose their own working hours in the hope of achieving a better work life balance.

“There’s no rocket science here; it might only be an hour earlier or later in the day, but it can make a real difference to how productive someone is and, generally, how happy they are.” ~ Tama Tomes, Managing Director at East Village

It’s a bold yet simple move. And comes a year after Radioactive PR in Gloucester first stuck its head above the parapet with the introduction of a four-day week.

The initiative, aimed at improving employee well-being, means staff at the agency no longer work on Fridays without any cut in pay. Client crises withstanding, of course.

Following a successful six-week trial period, agency founder Rich Leigh announced the four-day week would become permanent as of September last year.

“We’re building a real culture of conscientiousness. Of trust in the team, at all levels, that they can manage their time well enough to deliver the results clients want and expect.” ~ Rich Leigh, Founder and Director at Radioactive PR

Both examples are a welcome step in the right direction and begs the question, how long until others follow suit?

According to research by Powwownow, over three quarters (81%) of workers are more likely to consider a job that offers flexible working options. Younger workers in particular are placing less value on salary and more on things like social responsibility, corporate values and work life balance.

Employers are under increasing pressure to effect change and it’s only a matter of time before we reach breaking point. But, ultimately, it’s a tension that doesn’t need to exist.

Flexible working has proven benefits for employees and their organisations alike. From a workforce point of view, greater flexibility can improve wellbeing, boost job satisfaction and contribute to an equal and inclusive workplace.

From an employer perspective, it can increase staff retention, improve productivity and reduce sick leave. Just ask Radioactive PR. The four-day week has not only improved staff happiness, but client satisfaction too - driving growth, recruitment and new business.

I’m fortunate to work for an employer that, too, understands the power of flex appeal. But there’s a great irony in PR that as a changing, progressive industry, we so often fail to innovate.

Let’s champion flexible working as the exception to the rule. And follow in the footsteps of those brave enough to embrace change today, rather than play catch-up tomorrow.

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© 2018 Claire Simpson​. 

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