The Government Communication Service is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive workforce where people feel valued in an environment that supports flexible and part-time working.
Working part-time can bring numerous benefits both to the individual and their organisation. Working in a supportive environment that considers your personal and work life should not be underestimated.
Like many women who have children, I initially I went from full-time to part-time as I was returning from maternity leave and wanted to spend quality time with my son as well as making childcare costs more manageable. I now have two young boys and part-time and flexible working is essential to ensuring I have the right work/life balance.
I’ve had many conversations with friends over the years about their working patterns and the way their employers have – or sometimes haven’t – supported them. For me, the Legal Aid Agency has been a really supportive employer. The LAA has an engagement score of 71% and is in the top 10 of all the Civil Service organisations that participate in the staff engagement survey. We are also ranked fourth across the Civil Service for diversity and inclusion.
I believe there are two fundamental features of a flexible, part-time working pattern: trust and communication.
My team, my manager and the people I work with have to trust me to get the job done and continue to deliver high-quality work on time, even if they can’t see me in person on certain days of the week. Since working part-time I’ve worked in a press liaison role, which was relatively high-pressured and required fast responses to media enquiries, and in a change programme communications role with a more long-term and strategic focus. I’ve also line-managed people and been part of a team who work in various parts of the country, and we’ve still felt like a cohesive team. Where it has worked best is where there is a mutually supportive relationship, so that team members are willing and able to pick up any queries on my non-working days. Doing a brief handover at the start and end of my working week really helps with this. I used to prefer to start work a little later in the morning and finish in the early evening, but now I’m up at the crack of dawn and need to pick up my son before his nursery closes. I must also ensure that I fit all my work into three days when most of my colleagues are working five days. This really helps to focus the mind and work efficiently.
At the same time, we need to communicate really well so that other people, in my team and across the organisation, understand my working pattern and availability. Technology really helps with this. The LAA was at the forefront of change when it came to smarter working and flexibility. For a few years now, we’ve had laptops and mobile phones and been encouraged to take at least one day a week working from home. This was unheard of ten years ago, but now that it’s the norm there is a shared understanding of how to manage it. We now use Skype for Business to have online meetings or tele-conferences from outside the office, to share our availability and location and to have a quick and easy chat with colleagues.
Now that more families can make use of shared parental leave to give fathers the chance to spend some of their baby’s first year with them, I hope that more men will decide to work part time as well. And I would heartily recommend it to anyone for any reason – even simply as a lifestyle choice. On my non-working days, I spend time with friends and family, visit sites and museums without the crowds, get more fresh air and exercise, and get a few jobs done around the house. I’m sure everyone could enjoy these benefits, whatever their age, gender or personal circumstances.
Part-time working and job shares are traditionally associated with women. However over the past few years I have had the opportunity to experience the benefits of job sharing and flexible working. We are fortunate to work for an organisation that is supportive of these arrangements.
I worked three and a half days a week in an information governance role on a part-time basis, and the remaining one and half days a week in a press liaison role as a job share. This allowed me to experience two different roles which complemented each other and to develop new skills, whilst facilitating a colleague’s part-time working requirements to fit with their family commitments.
Combining two roles to work full-time provided flexibility for me to pick up urgent queries and ensure continuity across both roles, especially during periods of leave. I would have a handover at the start and end of my working week for each role to ensure everyone was up to speed.
One of the biggest challenges for me was that I was still working on days that weren’t designated for my other role, which could cause difficulties for colleagues trying to understand work patterns and availability. Using a shared mailbox meant that there was a single point of contact for myself and my job-share partner, allowing us to seamlessly transfer ownership of work back and forth and myself.
I really enjoyed working closely with a colleague and I would recommend it to anyone. Job sharing provides a great opportunity to support and learn from your colleague and promotes a dynamic and flexible workforce.
When I returned to work after my second maternity leave, I knew that I wanted to continue to work and develop my career, but that I also wanted to spend more time with my family. I had found managing a communications function full-time, with considerable on-call elements, more challenging with children and wanted to have a better work/life balance.
It has allowed me to spend valuable time with my children whilst they are small, whilst retaining a career in communications that I’ve worked more than 20 years to develop. For my employer, it has allowed them to retain experience, and their agreement to support me working flexibly encourages loyalty and commitment to the organisation.
Making the adjustment from full- to part-time and accepting what is and isn’t doable in a week is challenging. I’ve learnt this is about managing expectations and being disciplined, but you can feel like you aren’t doing anything properly sometimes. It can feel frustrating to miss key meetings on days you are not in, and you can feel less visible and therefore sometimes less effective.
Talk to others, ideally in similar roles, about what has and hasn’t worked for them to get an idea of what is possible and how different people have achieved this. I was much more confident after my second maternity leave in knowing what would practically work for both me and my employer and being very clear about this from the start. Be realistic with yourself and your employer about what is and isn’t achievable working part-time, and set clear expectations with your team.
Make sure that you set realistic objectives for the hours worked – I realise I have been very poor at supporting part-time workers to do this in the past. Think about scheduling key meetings on days which are best for part-time workers/job sharers etc. Do not assume that part time workers are less committed to their jobs or career because they are not always visible – my experience is that part-time workers can be more focused because the time they have available to complete work is reduced. Try not to see part-time working as an inconvenience – focus on the productive, committed, energetic worker you get on the days they are in, and play to that.