Getting the chance to work-part time may have been unheard of many years ago. But since the UK passed the Flexible Working Regulations law in 2014 more employees are seeking fewer hours. Jade Burke speaks to some PA Life readers paving the way for flexible working.
The working patterns of today’s PA varies greatly from company to company, with assistants working part-time, full-time, remotely and even sharing job roles with another colleague. As a greater emphasis on flexible working becomes more prominent within smaller firms and larger corporate chains, it’s no surprise to see so many assistants working part-time and making the most of flexible hours.
Back in 2014 the UK passed the Flexible Working Regulations, meaning employees now have a legal right to request flexible working, whether that is dropping down to a three-day week or working remotely from home, workers can ask.
Currently, seven in ten of the UK workforce (73 per cent) work either part-time or full-time with some form of flexible working pattern, reports Timewise, an organisation that helps businesses develop flexible working. Karen Mattison MBE, co-founder & joint CEO of Timewise, revealed in a statement: “The debate about flexible working has changed. It is not just about working anytime and anywhere. It is also about the millions of UK workers who – for a whole host of reasons – want or need to work less.”
Meanwhile, according to a study carried out by HSBC, nine in ten employees admitted to working harder when offered flexible working, compared to just 77 per cent of Brits who believe they’re at their best when offered financial incentives.
“It avoids the ‘groundhog day’ effect of commuting and working eight hours a day, five days a week and this can improve the general well-being of staff and their morale,” Jane Douglas, tells PA Life.
“It can empower staff as they feel trusted and genuinely appreciate the flexibility and will probably be more likely to ‘go the extra mile’.”
“In my experience, part-time workers are no less professional, hard-working and committed than their full-time counterparts.”
Finding that work/life balance
With flexible working becoming more common, the PA industry is no different where many assistants have opted to work on a part-time basis to ensure they have a better work/life balance. Working five days a week can disrupt many employees’ social lives, especially when children and families are involved, and working part-time can alleviate some of this pressure.
Kelly Lowe, VA and founder of Virtual Tiger, explains: “I found that I was missing important things at school such as sports days and performances. I was also getting home late and grabbing a takeaway and I was sat at my desk most of the day, so it was an unhealthy lifestyle for us all.
Colette Martin, executive PA at C.R Bard, shares a similar experience: “I pushed really hard in the past for part-time working when my children were small but it was always turned down. I love the fact that my employer now understands that they get a much better performance from me when addressing my work/life balance.”
There’s no doubt of the benefits a part-time role can offer, and slowly businesses are starting to recognise how this flexibility can lead to better morale and retention in the office. Douglas adds: “Employers should be open to the idea of more flexibility. Working part-time is not just ‘something to do for a couple of days a week’, it’s just as demanding and rewarding as a full-time role and in my experience, part-time workers are no less professional, hard-working and committed than their full-time counterparts.”
There are now more options than ever for part-time positions, including shared roles where two employees manage a job between them. Perhaps a rarer option for an assistant to be offered compared to the traditional option of working three to four days a week, however for Natalie Allen and Laura Pearce, executive assistants at Audley Travel, this is possible.
But, despite being given this rare opportunity, both feel that the PA industry is still incredibly reluctant to offer more part-time hours. “We have been working in the industry for over 18 years now and there has always been an unwritten, unspoken rule that PAs and EAs should be tied to their desks and at their boss’s side at all times. We would say ten or so years ago this was probably true. However, with the introduction of meeting and video applications it makes it possible to be anywhere and meet with anyone, at any time,” shares Allen.
“Until we start seeing more success stories in the industry around flexible working, it won’t be adopted on a more wider scale within businesses that employ PAs.”
Meanwhile, Sara Horner, EA at Hallmarq, has been working part time for over 15 months while she studies for her degree in English Language and Literature. Despite resistance from her employer to grant her a part-time role, Horner has dropped two afternoons a week to allow her to study. But this reduction in hours hasn’t affected her work ethic and completion of tasks.
“If both work and university deadlines are looming in the same week, being super organised and planning ahead are key, along with keeping the lines of communication open,” she adds.
“The days of nine to five seem to be fading and offering flexible hours to dedicated people who bring the right key skills makes sense.”
Similarly, Hayley Dunstan, office administrator at GKN Aerospace Services, believes working part-time does not stop employees from meeting deadlines and performing to a high standard.
She continues: “To Do lists and pro-activeness and regular communication with my manager of my workload, so that I am always working on the items that require high priority, help me achieve my jobs.”
It’s clear that the traditional nine to five, five days a week role is no longer the norm, and if employers begin to welcome this change, the workplace looks set to become a happier environment for all involved.
“The days of nine to five seem to be fading and offering flexible hours to dedicated people who bring the right key skills makes sense. In appreciating how productive people are when they have a degree of flexibility, any company with foresight will see the benefit of allowing that option,” concludes Horner.