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Returning to STEM
Returning to STEM

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2 Being flexible: what it means in the workplace

Flexible working refers to various patterns of working that are different from a traditional ‘9-to-5’ job. Attitudes to flexible working, along with changes in legal rights, mean there are a range of options for flexible working that can make it feasible to combine work with childcare or other caring commitments. What does flexibility in the workplace really mean, though? The term ‘flexibility’ can refer to both time and place, and applies to employers as well as those they employ, so it is a complex picture.

Recent legislation on flexible working means that you can request to work hours that fit around other commitments, but, on the other hand, increasing flexibility at work also means that your employer might require you to work either different shifts or in different locations and this can lead to the blurring of boundaries between home and work.

Activity 1 What is flexible working?

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

What do you understand by flexible working? Make a list of as many flexible working practices that you can think of that include flexibility in hours as well as place of work.


Here are some types of flexible working hours that you may have thought of:

  • part-time or reduced hours working
  • flexi-time (when you have scope to change work hours outside of ‘core’ business periods)
  • job sharing
  • compressed hours – for example, fitting a five-day week into four days
  • term-time working – paid or unpaid leave during school holidays
  • annual hours – agreed hours split into ‘set’ and ‘reserve’ shifts, worked as demand dictates
  • zero-hour contracts.

In terms of location, there are options such as remote or home-based working, working in a managed workspace (or even a café with Wi-Fi access) or self-employment where you decide your own hours and location of work.

Listen to Simone talk about her experience of flexible working.

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In the next section you will look a bit more closely at what these different flexible work options mean in practice.