THE S U N DAY C O O K
Angela Hartnett’s risottoriso masterclass
like football, you don’t make great money from it, and I need to think about my long-term prospects for when my sporting career eventually comes to an end.
I work full time in London, but take a train up to Glasgow on Thursday evenings when I have a weekend training camp. I fit work and emails around training on the Friday and make it up throughout the week.
I also get time off for matches – I had about 20 over the summer.
I know I’m really lucky, but I do think it benefits the company, too. It certainly feels like a two-way relationship.
The trend has led to the TUC announcing last month that a four-day working week is a realistic goal for most people by the end of this century – an enticing thought. Is it because, with British workers pushed to the brink by phones that ping around the clock with urgent emails, in addition to the longest hours in Europe, we are finally seeking greater life balance? Perhaps. But, surprisingly, businesses are seeing the benefit, too. “Done well it creates a win-win situation for workers and employers,” Matthew Percival, CBI Head of Employment policy, says. “Employers get access to a wider pool of people, retain employees and increase the productivity of their people. For employees it means greater freedom to organise their different responsibilities, such as family and caring.”
Flexible working is particularly appealing to working mothers. “We’re having kids later now, so the likelihood is that women have a career already,” Annie Ridout, author of The Freelance Mum: A Career Guide for Better Work-life Balance, says. But it’s reductive to think flexible working as only benefiting parents. Childcare was only cited as a reason for working flexibly by three in 10 respondents, according to Timewise. “I have friends who do shorter weeks because they simply want a better work-life balance,” Ridout says. “They might spend that last day working on a creative project, exercising, visiting galleries and museums or just relaxing.”
Percival says flexible working functions best when it is “hard-wired into job adverts from the beginning”. However, according to Karen Mattison, cofounder of Timewise, fewer than one in 10 job adverts mentions the option of flexibility. So when should you bring it up? “That conversation is a bit of an art,” she admits. “If it’s not been mentioned by them, it’s OK to wait until they’ve made some sort of indication that they want you, such as asking to see you a second time.”
Whether you are telling a prospective new boss or your current one that you want to work in a different way, Mattison has advice. “A lot of people make the mistake of emphasising why they want flexible working, rather than how they will make it work for the business, or benefit the business,” she says.
“Don’t say you need it so that you can pick the kids up from school. Instead, focus on the 20 per cent of the wage bill that the employer will be saving, or the growth opportunity for a junior colleague to expand into part of your role.”
After the initial chat, you need to apply formally. You only get one chance every 12 months, so you need to get it right. First check your employer’s policy: if they have one, it will set out how the request should be made. “Requests should be in writing stating the date of the request and whether any previous application has been made and the date of that application,” according to Acas. org.uk. The employer then has to reply with a decision within three months.
Assuming your request is granted, your next conversation is about money. For those reducing their hours, it often comes with a pay cut. You shouldn’t default to the assumption that rewards should be pro-rata. “In theory people should be rewarded on output,” says Lisa Unwin, co-author of She’s Back: Your Guide to Returning to Work, and founder of a company that helps women get back to work. “But we have to accept that’s often difficult to measure. Our advice is to focus the discussion first on deliverables, value added, level of responsibility – and then get to hours.”
Although there are some measurable outcomes: “One woman I worked with agreed to take on extra work when someone went on maternity leave,” Unwin adds. “Her hours remained the same and she wasn’t getting a promotion. We argued that the extra respon-