Flexible and fractional (part-time) working are two key tools for employers who want to recruit and retain women, and support women wanting to return to the workforce after a career break. People are attracted to fractional and flexible working arrangements for many reasons, not least of which is balancing work with caring responsibilities, which still rest predominantly on women’s shoulders.
Companies that offer and support a variety of working patterns can benefit from a pool of highly qualified but under-utilised women. Fractional and flexible working can also promote a positive working culture and increase productivity, and support staff who want to enhance their qualifications. Considered implementation can also help to reduce the gender pay gap.
- Understand employees’ rights and needs
- Encourage positive attitudes to flexible and fractional working
- Keep flexible and fractional colleagues involved
- Establish a positive culture of flexible and fractional working
A ‘fractional’ job is a part-time role where the employee works for a specified fraction of a full-time equivalent (FTE) role, for example a 0.5FTE role would be for half of a standard 35-40 hour working week.
Flexible roles allow employees to choose when they work, often including hours outside the standard work day. They may also include the option to work from home. A flexible approach can accommodate not only fluctuating demands at work, but also events such as a sick dependent, a school concert, or having to get your car serviced.
Both fractional and full-time roles can be worked flexibly.
Understand employees’ rights and needs
In the UK, anyone who has been employed for six months may request flexible working. Because fractional and flexible working is very attractive to women, especially those for whom a full-time might be challenging, it is good practice to offer it as standard, either with a personal plan or using common options such as:
- Term-time only
- Annualised hours, eg working the equivalent of 10 months per year
- Compressed hours, eg such as working a full week over four days
If an employee asks to go part-time, it may be that they actually need the flexibility rather than reduced hours (and salary). A request for fractional or flexible work is a great opportunity to think creatively about the possibilities for changing broader working patterns, and to ask staff what hours they currently work, and what hours would they like to work. Use case studies of fractional and flexible working to help staff understand their rights. Using both women and men as role models can help to normalise these ways of working.
About three-quarters of requests for flexible working are approved, which suggests that most applicants think responsibly about what they can ask for. If a request is refused, it should be on the basis of reasoned arguments and evidence that it would not support the business need.
When a company commits to improving diversity and inclusion, offering fractional and flexible working is a good way to widen the pool of applicants to your job ads.
Attitudes to flexible and fractional working
Fractional employees are more likely to be women, so supporting their career development can make an important contribution to reducing the gender pay gap. Promotion processes and bonus structures should reflect the contribution that fractional employees make to a business, and should not negatively affect their chances of being promoted or receiving a bonus or pay increase. Indeed, it is against the law to judge an employee simply on the basis that their appointment is fractional or flexible. Focus on the quality of their contribution when thinking about promotion or benefits.
Unfortunately, although fractional appointments are common, they can attract negative attitudes such as ‘presenteeism’, where employees are judged on how long they are physically present at work. Such attitudes not only discriminate against fractional and flexible employees, they also perpetuate a culture of long working hours, which pressures people to work longer hours than necessary and to work when sick. Do not assume that employees who work flexibly or fractionally are not ambitious. Make sure that all staff are treated equitably, and are given the same career development opportunities.
Employers can counter presenteeism by recognising the contributions that fractional employees make to the business. Fractional staff should not be described as ‘part-time’ on staff lists or business cards — their working pattern is not relevant to the quality of their work. Indeed, working part-time or flexibly may even enhance an employee’s contributions — those who have a positive work-life balance are often the most positive about their job, and are more productive as a consequence.
Keep flexible and fractional colleagues involved
A company that supports flexible working will need to ensure that all colleagues are able to participate fully in the workplace. For example, project meetings at 8.30am or 4.00pm may exclude anyone who has to do the school run. Senior management meetings at these times may deter parents from seeking promotion. It therefore makes sense to ensure that there is a set time each week when all members of the team are in the office to attend team meetings.
Another good way to keep colleagues in the loop is to use alternatives to email, such as real-time discussion tools like Slack, video conferencing services, and project wikis. Provide access to and training on remote working technologies to all staff to improve inclusion and encourage collaboration. However, it is important to remember that flexible workers work flexibly for a reason, and their other commitments must be respected.
Social events are important to develop team relationships, but when they are scheduled after work or at weekends they may exclude parents and carers — lunchtimes can provide a more inclusive alternative.
Establishing a culture of flexible working
Managers play a key role within any organisation, in terms of how fractional and flexible working is enacted on the ground. They help build employee relationships, and support career progression as their staff grow and develop in their roles.
Managers should not only be aware of the benefits of fractional and flexible working, they should be discussing options with staff during reviews and appraisals, as well as considering how these employment structures might benefit specific projects or teams. Ensure that the organisation’s commitment to flexible working is highlighted to managers during key processes, such as recruitment and appraisals.
Recruitment and HR teams especially should be aware of staff’s rights with respect to fractional and flexible working. They should review recruitment and internal communications materials to ensure that they properly reflect both employee rights and the company’s broader policies.
Many employees may not have thought about fractional or flexible working, so showcasing positive stories, particularly by inviting flexible and fractional workers to share and discuss their experience, will help them understand their options.
When staff transition to flexible or fractional working, they may benefit from formal or informal mentoring from an experienced colleague, especially if they are new to the idea.