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Beyond Billable Hours: Exploring Flexible Workplace Practices

December is typically a time of reflection, as the year draws to a close and we look back on our achievements over the past few months. It’s a time to consider the changes you would like to implement both personally and professionally in the new year, to hopefully climb another rung on the ladder of contentment.

For many, a flexible working model is central to the maintenance of a happy and balanced lifestyle; however, there remains an ingrained prejudice against those who believe so. Flexism. If this term is new to you, you may want to visit the first part of this blog for some helpful context before reading on.

Back in the room?

So, we’ve established what flexism is, who is affected, and how it affects them. Now, it’s time to delve a little deeper.

Flexism in the legal sphere

A recent study revealed that less than half of lawyers are satisfied with the work-life balance their current role offers them, which strongly indicates a need for change within the legal profession. This need for progression is amplified by the voices of the individuals that we speak to daily at Harvey John, who echo the desire for a shift towards healthier working practices that are more conducive to a balanced lifestyle.

This need for change is certainly a sticking point for our candidates, but it’s also reflected more generally in the legal profession. In a survey on workplace culture conducted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, 49% of legal professionals said they would like to have a flexible working arrangement, whereas only 26% of respondents reported already having one in place. This disparity not only shows the growing desire for a healthier work-life balance but also strongly indicates the prevalence of flexism within the legal sphere.

However, this needn’t be the case, especially when considering the task-oriented nature of legal matters, which negates the need for timekeeping and therefore the seemingly outdated billable hour model, which appears to be falling as realisation dawns on law firms that it’s no longer the ultimate precursor to productivity.

Flexible working in practice

Our Head of Legal Recruitment, Hayley Rose, is known for her thorough and prompt responses to both candidates and clients, a large portion of whom are unaware that she benefits from a flexible working arrangement. Hayley utilises a schedule of reduced hours to find a better balance between commitments to her children and working life, which she now acknowledges openly. This wasn’t always the case.

It’s easy to comprehend flexism as a bias against those who require flexible working arrangements, but what about those who turn the scope inward? Hayley now realises that she once suffered from internalised flexism; that is, she felt that working reduced hours meant she was seen as less competitive to clients and chose not to disclose her lack of availability as a result.

Who’d have thought that the way to overcome flexism is to speak more openly about it?

The pandemic brought a shift in most of our perspectives on flexible working, and Hayley was no exception. She acknowledges that there is a balance to be found for us all, whether it be through reduced or condensed hours, working from home, or a combination of elements.

There isn’t a perfect answer for everything to work. I started by trialing out leaving at four o’clock to help with the kids’ homework. It’s like leaving in the middle of the day, but coming straight from work to get stuck into analysing Shakespeare is equally tough!

A candidate’s perspective

Hayley previously placed a candidate whose schedule of condensed hours enables them to take half a day per week to visit their grandfather. Working just 45 minutes extra for four days amounts to three hours freed up over the week, giving them not the only positive outcome of this arrangement. The candidate also noted to Hayley that these ‘condensed hours’ make them even more productive while enduring less stress, due to the focus gained from the incentive provided and the subsequent relaxation from having their weekends free of caring duties.

Thus, the permission of flexible working by the firm not only satisfies the employee but also ensures they are producing ample work while satisfying their well-being and that of their family members in the process. Many parties are satisfied, and productivity is amplified—win-win-win!

Combating flexism within Harvey John

As a specialist recruitment firm, Harvey John is a multifaceted business in which no two roles are the same. The working environment is dynamic, and their flexible working policy reflects this. A colleague recently wrote about working parents within the corporate sphere and how those who work at Harvey John adapt their hours to fit their varying schedules; however, parents are just some of the individuals utilising flexible working arrangements.

Several employees benefit from working flexibly simply because they live far away from the office, while others simply choose to work reduced hours to live a more balanced life. One colleague, in particular, chooses to balance their four-day work week with a career as an Actor/Director that they spend their Fridays focusing on. This not only ensures they can pursue their thespian passion but also makes for unique and interesting insights within the recruitment sphere, such as Interview Tips from an Actor! Therefore, it’s evident from this company alone that to eradicate the stigma against flexible working, we must champion anyone who wishes to do so, including those who aren’t in caregiving roles.

Being a recruiter requires persuasion, convincing others of their ability to both advertise and fill positions. Therefore, it’s vital that we as a cohort believe in our own company’s policies to convince others of the benefits of flexible working, particularly when one of the primary selling points for candidates is the opportunity for them to work flexibly and thus maintain the work-life balance they’ve worked hard to achieve. As another colleague said in a recent blog on toxic workplace practices, ‘Companies must understand the impact that hustle culture has on their staff and what they can do to help prevent burnout.’

Flexible working prevails

As aforementioned, the primary way to combat flexism is to be more open about the flexible working arrangements we already have, in the hopes of normalising them and debunking the myth that they reduce productivity. Putting flexible arrangements into practice demonstrates that they work and increases the likelihood of more companies adapting the way they treat their employees.

Plus, there are a few cold, hard facts supporting the cause. The billable hour is falling out of favour, the four-day workweek is growing in popularity, and the desire for hybrid working continues to rise.

It seems we’re on our way to combating flexism already, particularly in the legal profession. But, until flexibility at work is available to anyone for any reason, flexism will prevail. So, don’t be shy; talk about it!

Reach out to Hayley Rose for expert legal career advice. Or explore Harvey John’s Media Hub, where we share our insights, research, and market reports.

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