Reactivate talent, reignite growth and rebalance our working lives

Without access to flexible working, a large pool of knowledge and talent is going to waste. This is costing us greatly, stifling growth and impacting workplace wellbeing.

For all the progress made in communication technology and digital working platforms, and for all the conversations on work life balance and the importance of workplace wellbeing, it seems society is still attached to a culture of long office hours and presenteeism. Women’s careers continue to stall due to a lack of options for flexible working, so say the findings of recent in depth studies into flexible working and the progression of women in the corporate workplace.

A report compiled by Digital Mums in association with Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) found 60% of mothers with children under 18 do not have access to flexible working. 64% of returning mothers found that their skills were compromised in some way in order to find a flexible job. The findings indicate that women are still finding it hard to return to work, and feel unable to progress as a result of career breaks, maternity leave and family commitments.

The Women in the Workplace 2016 study looked even more in depth into women’s career development and presence in the workplace in corporate America, finding that women are still falling behind men on the corporate ladder, with companies struggling to put their commitment to gender equality into practice for a number of reasons, including concerns about positive discrimination. And where flexible working programmes are offered to parents, it was found that 61% of employees worry that working part-time will hurt their career, with 42% believing taking a leave of absence or sabbatical will do the same.

Why should so many women have to compromise their experience and skillset in order to find work that suits them? Why are employers and managers stretching every hour given, instead of calling on the expertise and skills they need when they need them? Why are there pools of latent talent still being left untapped? These are the questions we still find ourselves asking of the legal sector, and indeed many other industries beyond.

What happens when we increase the opportunities for people to work flexibly and remotely, when different life stages mean that they cannot be tied to the office and commute from dawn to dusk? It’s not a stretch to say that productivity is boosted and everyone’s work life balance stands to improve. The real, tangible benefits of flexible working and of changing traditional approaches to legal consultancy can be seen every day at Obelisk. From talent reactivated after a lengthy career break, to those changing to freelance remote work as life priorities change, the talent and expertise is there ready and waiting for the opportunity to take on new challenges, to find work that fits with their lives and fulfils their sense of purpose.

The CEBR also calculated that widespread access to flexible working could add 66 million hours more work per week, with an economic output boost to the UK of approximately £62.5 billion. But the benefits go even further than economic gain. It is not sustainable for business owners to be pulled on all directions when they need the time and headspace to create, shape and grow their business. Nor is it sustainable for employees who will not feel valued or incentivised by restrictive and lengthy hours expected of them, when there are people with the knowledge and talent available. Allowing people the time to concentrate their efforts on their core responsibilities and the bigger picture of their business, rather than fighting daily fires such as contract resolutions and other areas of time draining micro-management can change our overworking, long-office-hours culture for good, for the benefit of everyone’s wellbeing and personal growth, as well as the growth of the economy as a whole.

It’s time we all asked ourselves: What would we do with #MyMillionHours?