Working flexibly is not career limiting!


The following article is authored by Vanessa Vanderhoek, founder of Flexible Working Day.

Many (many) years ago, I was an eager young graduate. Actually, I was fierce! Competitive and ambitious – I looked at the corporate ladder, and decided to take the lift. I put my head down, worked ridiculous hours and made sure I didn’t miss an opportunity to be around the power players. I quickly rose through the ranks.

But then I met a fabulous man, who lived interstate and had two small children from a previous relationship. And for the first time I questioned, did I want a life or a career?

While I had witnessed from afar others dabbling in the world of flexible working (I know, how naïve to considered it ‘dabbling’), I secretly believed adopting such a lifestyle would be career suicide.

Two things happened. Firstly, the fabulous man (now husband) demonstrated working flexibly. As a single dad at the time, he shared drop-off/pick-up and after school activities with his ex. He placed value on his family while holding down a successful career. As he couldn’t work long hours, he worked smarter, more focussed hours.

Secondly, the long-distance relationship meant I had to reconsider my work role. I worked with HR to negotiate a fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) working arrangement (cough – flexible work). I too learnt to work smarter, and focused my attention on work matters far more attentively than I had before. Sure, I could no longer work ridiculous hours, but I didn’t want that so much anymore. I had to let pass Friday night drinks and small work functions, but it was something I was prepared to do.

And the reward? Not only did I gain a life and retain my career, I became a better employee and employer. I had greater empathy to those who struggled in the 9-5 working prison. And was able to efficiently prioritise my time.

Be realistic

You need to weigh up every decision. There is always a cost – family, work, financial, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it work.

Today, I’m in a different stage of life. As a working new-mum, gears have shifted. While I can’t dedicate every day to my career, or say yes to every opportunity, my career hasn’t stalled. I know I have value to bring to the working table. I just choose what I can bring more carefully.

Perhaps you’re considering working flexibly so you can study and thus take your career to the next level. Are you considering working 40 hours in less days, or do you want to only work 32 hours?

Perhaps you want to go part time to focus on your family? Can your role be job-shared? Or can you work every day, but reduce your hours?

Ultimately, what is achievable for yourself and your organisation?

Have a strategy

Before you negotiate flexible conditions, make sure you have a plan. Review your organisation’s policies. Consider how your changed role will affect your team. If you go into negotiations having answered as many questions as possible, you’re sure to be taken far more seriously.

But also know your worth. Don’t underestimate yourself. If you’ve been a great employee with a track record to deliver, then your organisation is likely to do what they can to retain you. Focus your position around KPIs (key performance indicators) so that you and your boss can measure your performance, not based on your face-time in the office, but by your outputs.

Set clear boundaries

For work and for home. This allows you to focus your time and energy on the areas that do matter. Have upfront discussions about expectations and your capacity. Is it worth getting in some extra help to share some of your work (or home!) burden?

Once you’ve set these boundaries, learn how to respectively say no. The more often you continue to press onwards, and upwards at your own cost, the more you’ll be expected to do so. That doesn’t mean we don’t knuckle down during the busy times, but it does mean you shouldn’t set a precedent you can’t maintain.