Part-time working isn't just for parents

'Flexible and part-time working are concessions that agencies make for mums. They are detrimental to business and agencies only allow people to work in this way because they don't look very nice if they don't.'

Agencies shouldn’t apologise for working flexibly, they should champion it, argues Sharon Bange
Agencies shouldn’t apologise for working flexibly, they should champion it, argues Sharon Bange

That was the attitude towards flexible and part-time working when I started out in PR around 15 years ago. Much has changed since then.

The gender pay gap has shone a spotlight on the lack of wage progression for part-time working mothers, with widespread moves to tackle this; the introduction of Shared Parental Leave has opened up the conversation about the sharing of childcare responsibilities between men and women; and many younger employees entering today’s workplace don’t see flexibility as a ‘nice to have’ – it’s a deal-breaker.

Gender pay gap among PR freelancers 'second highest' across marcomms and creative

However, negative attitudes towards flexibility prevail in some parts of the agency world. PR is always on, they say. Clients demand that we’re at our desks. Productivity will suffer!

I’ve also heard examples of agencies that pay lip service to flexibility when this isn’t the case in practice.

This out-of-date attitude towards flexible and part-time working isn’t just damaging to employees; it is detrimental to an agency’s bottom line.

But how on earth can flexible working in agencies be beneficial to clients? Enabling people to build work around their lives – and not the other way around – makes them more motivated and focused.

This, in turn, means they provide a better service to clients.

Agencies, therefore, shouldn’t apologise for working flexibly, they should champion it.

Many clients now work flexibly, too, from part-time hours to job shares and this puts paid to the myth that they expect us to be at our desks from 9 to 5.

Outmoded working practices also limit the pool of talent we can attract, retain and grow.

And I’m not just talking about working parents. In a creative industry, we should be encouraging all employees to have interests outside of the office – side hustles, passion projects, opportunities to learn.

So how can we encourage more agencies to get onboard with flexible working?

Role models play a huge part in this. The more the PR sector sees agencies and agency staff benefitting from flexible working, the more commonplace it will become.

Those in leadership positions have a responsibility to provide positive examples of how flexible and part-time working can enhance rather than stifle career progression.

Hopefully then we won’t still be having this debate in another 15 years’ time.

Flexibility should be just as normal and as much a part of working life as Pret coffees and gripes about the photocopier.

Sharon Bange is managing partner at Kindred

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