For many, ‘flexible working’ conjures up the idea of career mums wanting to spend less time in the office and more time with their children. Even though flexible working offers the same benefits to every employee, there’s still a perception it only caters for this particular demographic.
Despite the PR industry becoming more open to the idea of flexible working, openly discussing it when an employee first joins the company remains a little too much for most. As for the ‘just starting out graduate’ or the ‘male employee in his mid-twenties’ wanting that same level of flexibility? No chance.
There are more articles than I can count extolling the benefits of flexible working – no one needs me to spell it out. However, what does need spelling out is that any employee, at any stage of their career, should be able to work flexibly.
This year’s crop of fresh-faced graduates, about to take the plunge into the world of PR, will be working for the next 50 years. By any standard that is a long time, and to make sure that five, ten or 15 years down the line we aren’t faced with a generation of unhappy and burnt-out PRs needing to ‘find themselves’, the industry must move to quash the flexible working stereotype.
The phrase ‘man up’ has an awful lot to answer for; it means that many of my male employees have a ‘power through’ attitude that benefits no one. Droves of men in PR suffering in silence does nobody – neither employers nor employees – any good. Men have exactly the same needs as women when it comes to striking the work/life balance and the view that stoically working 9 to 5 is a sign of strength has got to go.
The battle to normalise flexible working is fought on many fronts; allowing flexibility from the point of hire is a key struggle. So few companies have a 'cards on the table' discussion about how new recruits want to work when hiring, at any level. Employees often feel they must ‘earn their stripes’ before even broaching the subject of an altered working pattern.
There is a misconception that working flexibly equates to working less. Above anything else PR relies on the individual and their skill set, not geographical location. As long as they have access to a phone and a computer, anyone from senior director to junior consultant can do their job anywhere.
There is an element of macho pride when it comes to the work environment. Few want to go against the grain and say, ‘flexible working is for me’ if it’s not something already built into the company ethos.
It’s the responsibility of the employer not only to offer flexible working, but to encourage genuine flexible working. To say: don’t commute every day, work shorter hours in winter, book doctors’ appointments at a time that suits you, start early, finish late or take a sabbatical; your job will still be waiting for you. Flexible working benefits every employee from the bottom up, and it is up to PR employers to help all staff choose a working pattern to suit them.
Narelle Morrison is managing director of Babel PR