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Making it work together: Scottish Qualifications Authority

Hannah and Scott Fleming have a slightly complicated schedule. She works from 7.30am to 3.30pm Monday to Thursday and works from home on a Friday; her husband Scott works from 7.30am to 3.30pm Tuesday to Friday, and stays home on Mondays to work from 7am to 1pm. They agree on one thing: they could never make it work if they were not both employees at Scottish Qualifications Authority.

As HR Advisor Fiona McMillan explains, SQA has always been a flexible organisation. Flexibility and work life balance are core values to the organisation, and they are key in how SQA presents itself as an employer. As attitudes towards flexible working are becoming more flexible around the country, flexible working arrangements at SQA have become even more frequent.

The system is fairly simple: there is a number of core hours that must be worked by employees. Within those hours, flexible working arrangement can be requested - of course, every arrangement has to be workable within the needs of the organisation and have line management support.

For Hannah and Scott, working flexibly is absolutely essential when it comes to childcare for their son. They first introduced some flexibility after Hannah returned from maternity leave- but their work patterns have changed and adjusted according to childcare. They credit SQA for being accepting and helpful through all these changes. Even within the formal flexible arrangement, the hours can be adjusted depending on what the childcare needs are for the week.

“Flexible working means I can help my son with his homework”, says Hannah, “and actually spend time with him”. As Scott adds, “without these arrangements we would only see our son early in the morning before breakfast, and for a short time at dinner”.

Instead, they can combine home life with a professional career. Hannah is an Editor at SQA, revising and editing Revised National Qualifications documents; Scott is a Coordinator for the Revised National Qualifications, and leads a team. Both say flexible working makes them more focused and productive, and that it has a positive effect on their attitudes towards the work itself: Hannah claims that “it helps me focus on the work I’m doing, and makes me more productive ”, and Scott feels that he is “working with the employer, rather than for them” when he’s completing a project. Hannah sometimes uses her lunch break for gym classes- flexible working has being good for her overall wellbeing, not just for her childcare needs.

This is a sentiment shared by the employer as well, as Fiona explains. From an HR perspective, flexible working has improved people’s wellbeing and stress levels, and has made employees more loyal and motivated. Everyone in Scott’s team works flexibly, meaning everyone has to work in the most effective way; “nobody is off at the same time, and everyone is always walking the extra mile for the team”.

Fiona previously worked for some time in retail, with a lot less flexibility. As she adds, “sometimes there are small accidents in your day, like missing your train and getting to work five minutes later. It’s much better to work without that kind of pressure and rigidity- and it’s much easier to work in an organisation that’s willing to accommodate and adapt to your needs”.

by Anna Viceconti

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