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Flexible working – is it an option in PR and Comms Agencies?  If not, why not?

11 Sep 2018

According to our Annual Salary Guide 2017/18, 33% of employers in the industry do not offer any flexibility around working hours.  Yet 80% of respondents (both men and women across in-house and agencies) rated flexibility around start/finish time as important or extremely important.   This clearly suggests that many employers in the industry are missing a trick.

The benefits that flexible working arrangements bring to an employee’s life are manifold, including a better work/life balance, greater job satisfaction, increased energy and creativity, not to mention giving employees greater ownership and control of their own time and working hours.

I interview PR and Corporate Comms professionals daily, and I hear these talented individuals saying time and again how much more attractive a job that offers flexible working is to them; and the main reason for wanting to move in-house is that they will get more control of their hours.  Which begs the question – why aren’t more agencies offering this?

Consultancy 1: 100-strong corporate reputation management consultancy, London

This agency told me that they offer flexible working, although they aren’t by any means paving the way on it.  All flexible working requests come from parents, and they have found that a four-day week (with a slightly reduced workload) works for these employees.

Working from home is allowed across the business for receiving deliveries, visits from workmen etc, or for senior members of the team wanting to ‘crack on with something’.  They are currently trialling an Account Director working four days on site and one day from home; and this will be reviewed in three months to see whether it has impacted internal or client meetings.

People often work longer than 9-5 hours, and commuting into London during peak hours is a definite downside among employees; there is a lot of talk about flexibility. This particular agency freely admitted that it’s high time to talk more seriously about the option, and see if it’s workable across the organisation. 

Consultancy 2:  40-strong integrated communications consultancy, London

This smaller agency told me that they have several people working flexibly in different capacities (part time, one day from home, coming in/leaving early), and it is working well. Employees are encouraged to bring requests to line managers so that they can consider whether the business can support flexible working options.  They recognise that it is good for both the business and the employee, and they see a positive effect on retention.  They don’t have a formal policy in place at this stage, but recognise that it’s something that they need to get up to speed with if they are to become a more attractive prospect to potential candidates.

Consultancy 3: 120-strong international integrated communications consultancy, London

This larger corporate comms consultancy has moved to flexible working arrangements for all their staff.  Employees can choose to start their day between 7:30am and 10:30am as long as they do their minimum contractual working hours that day/week.  Account Executives can use the ‘flexi’ option once a month and Account Managers and above can use it up to once a week (at managers’ discretion).  Flexible working must be signed off in advance.

They also offer work from home options to enable employees to concentrate on a specific piece of work, or to be there when the kids come home from school.

The MD told me that they decided to offer flexible working to help balance the significant demands that they put on their team; they find that it makes for a happier, more motivated and more empowered team.  Benefits have been very visible as employees feel trusted, and the team can still continue to build a close community via on-site events and regular in-person meetings.

The upshot?

This might be a good time for agencies to let go of the expectation of what employees ‘should’ achieve in a typical 40-hour work week, and change their mindset when approaching flexible work – what would the workplace look like if employees worked less in the office but produced the same amount? 

Of course, to make businesses effective, it’s important to put certain safeguards in place. This may mean opening an honest conversation with employees interested in flexible arrangements, and establishing a clear process for how they will work within the organisation.

To help you implement flexible working into your business, we will be putting together a simple ‘how to’ guide which you can download – coming soon to www.the-works.co.uk

Salary Survey 2017 - 2018