Taking time for work and play

The majority of people think that flexible working hours are a practical idea. Despite this, however, many believe it can also hamper your career prospects

Within the profession of marketing, it is no longer only women who are concerned about the pressure of combining a personal life with the demands of a career. A survey commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has found that the debate on flexible working and the work-life balance has moved on.

The survey, conducted by flexible working consultancy and recruitment agency Flexecutive as part of the CIM’s Marketing Effectiveness Campaign, concludes that the issue of flexible working has now become de-gendered. The way we work and the freedom we are given to succeed in the workplace, while meeting our own personal needs, is important to men as well as women.

The attractions of flexible working are obvious – the ability to balance work with personal commitments, and having the time for personal development or to improve fitness, are the aspects of flexible working that appeal most. Some 79 per cent of respondents believe that flexible working should be available to all. Sixty-seven per cent want a more flexible role themselves, and this percentage does not differ between men and women. Almost 40 per cent say that all roles could be done on a flexible basis, but just 19 per cent already work with some type of flexible structure, such as working from home or job sharing.

While a number of marketers would like to work more flexibly, many are concerned about the effect this would have on their career. A significant number think that their colleagues would think less of them for taking a more flexible approach to their careers. Some 67 per cent of respondents think that co-workers believe that flexible systems are unfair because they are not available to all employees and all roles.

A substantial 81 per cent feel that moving to a part-time or flexible career would harm their promotional prospects, and 74 per cent of those questioned say that there are fewer interesting jobs available on a part-time basis. Also, 80 per cent maintain that part-time jobs offer fewer promotional prospects and 78 per cent agree that good jobs go to people who work full time. As 83 per cent of respondents say that career progression is important to them, the take-up of flexible working options will inevitably be low.

A majority (89 per cent) also believe that part-time or flexible work is taken up mostly by women, and 78 per cent say that this damages women’s promotional prospects. Thirty-six per cent of men and 12 per cent of women agree that it is less acceptable for a man to be working on a part-time basis than a woman.

While 87 per cent feel that employers should allow staff to attend to commitments outside work and make up the time elsewhere, this is not reflected in the reality of most marketers’ working life. Holiday entitlements are used to deal with personal matters by 42 per cent of marketers. Also, 54 per cent say that they do not have any control over the hours they work, while 55 per cent say they have little flexibility in their working hours.

Leaving after the boss is still a game many play, and while 68 per cent of respondents do not agree that working long hours indicates commitment, 51 per cent say that they find it hard to leave work on time. Meetings are often scheduled before or after the working day for 23 per cent of the respondents and 54 per cent have to occasionally attend early or late meetings. However, 81 per cent believe that most jobs could be structured so that these out-of-hours meetings are not necessary.

Senior positions demand more than a nine-to-five commitment, according to 59 per cent of those taking part in the survey. This figure has fallen dramatically since 1998, when the survey was last conducted. At the time, 82 per cent of respondents felt that top jobs were not for nine-to-fivers. Men were much more likely to believe that senior jobs demanded a longer working day and 37 per cent agree that senior managers can work successfully on a part-time basis, while 40 per cent disagree. Seventy-nine per cent believed that flexible working was a viable option for senior staff.

Parents taking part in the survey clearly feel that work comes between them and their family responsibilities – 55 per cent say that they find it difficult to become involved in school events or other activities; 50 per cent say they miss out on aspects of their children’s development and 47 per cent feel they are not able to be involved with their family as much as they would like. But as 68 per cent of respondents do not have children, it is evident that the desire for a more flexible approach is not only prompted by immediate concerns about childcare.

Marketers want flexibility. They do not believe it damages their effectiveness. But there is still a long way to go before the dream of a flexible working life becomes a reality.

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