Returning to STEM
Returning to STEM

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Returning to STEM

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.

Download this video clip.Video player: return_to_stem_week4_simone_512x256.mp4
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I've been at The Open University for about 10 years, and in that space of time, I've had two children, one who is now eight years old, and the other who is just about approaching two years old. And on both occasions, I took about six months’ maternity leave staying at home with them, and then came back out to work round about six months after giving birth. On both occasions, I was in a different role and different faculty for the two of those, so it was different for both.
With the first one, I had a really flexible working arrangement that was sort of devised by my director at the time, and so I worked from home quite a lot. I came in for the odd meeting, sometimes even being allowed to bring my baby at those meetings. And that was really, really helpful for me, and then it meant I put my now eight-year-old into nursery around closer to seven months, rather than six months, because I had that sort of really flexible first month back sort of weaning me into the full-time working life again. And even after she went to nursery, I had a very flexible time as well, working a lot again from home.
On the second occasion eight years later, things have changed at The Open University – lots more health and safety arrangements in place and different department. So I did have a bit of flexible working arrangement put in place as well, not to the extent that was done for the first time. So I had a sort of a very extended lunch break – I think was about two and a half hours extended lunch break – and the ability to go back and forth to the nursery, the OU nursery where my son was, to be able to breastfeed as and when. So that in itself was also another flexible arrangement put in place.
End transcript
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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.


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