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"Not just for parents": why flexible working is essential for everyone

For Ann Cowan, flexibility is a constant feature of her work as Operations Manager at Independent Living Fund Scotland. “Flexibility is part of our core values”, she says. “It has been a set policy of the organisation since its outset”. Ann works full time, Monday till Friday and 9 till 5. But she always has the option to come in late, leave early, and take a day off any time for family needs; and that’s what really makes a difference.

In previous jobs, she argues, the flexibility was still there. But the attitude of the employer was to leave decisions up to their team, creating a situation where they had to ‘work it out’ amongst themselves. That’s not the case at ILF: “having good policies in place, a good background structure, is what has made flexible working such a success”.

Ann confirms that on a normal week, having flexible working options “definitely makes things easier”. But it really makes a huge difference in moments of crisis or emergency. Last year Ann suffered a bereavement, resulting in a family member who is disabled needing more support for a period of time. Through a difficult few months of her life, she says, “I could live my life knowing that my employer was supportive, and not breathing down my neck”.

This changed her perspective on flexible working in general. “When people talk about family friendly policies, they only think of children and their parents. But it’s more than that! We all have different needs and priorities; it was very refreshing to know that your employer prioritises you as a person, not just as a parent”. Even the notion of caring is not as uniform as we think: “caring responsibilities can take so many different forms… getting a puppy can mean having to care for it! Flexible working gives you the option to prioritise different things at different times”.

Ann also feels that the positive relationship she has with her employer translates into how she leads her own Operations team. Flexibility in her management means “less formality, and letting the team structure their own working day as needed”. Ultimately, she says, flexible working is about maintaining a good communication and a respectful relationship. “So someone needs to come in late, or take a day off. Is it not only helpful to the employee, but also beneficial to the employer, to be supportive of that?"

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