Flex Appeal: the next stage

With funding secured for a major new piece of work, Matt wanted to get down in pixels exactly what Flex Appeal is and answer some common questions…

A little bit of background
In December 2014, Anna stepped out of journalism to accept a senior copywriter job with a large beauty brand. In January 2015, that brand announced plans to move its office. She put in a flexible working request, which was denied as it would ‘open the floodgates’. She was left with a choice – quit the job or only see our daughter asleep and at weekends. A month later, Mother Pukka was born. Since its launch in 2015, Mother Pukka has been campaigning to encourage the adoption of flexible working across the UK.
It’s seen us run flashmobs in town centres across the UK, lobby 10 Downing Street, give evidence to the Welsh Assembly, run free legal advice drop-ins with employment lawyers and be quoted in a July 2019 Ten-Minute Rule bill brought to make flex a legal default in all jobs (the bill didn’t get beyond second reading).

What’s the goal?
For flexible working to be the norm in all jobs in the UK. Our eldest daughter will be joining the workforce in 12 to 15 years. When she gets there, we don’t want her to be forced to make a choice between earning a living and having a family.  
But it’s not just about parents: it’s something for everyone – young, old, carers, those living with disabilities, those in factories or finance, or anyone who wants to work and live a little bit better.

How do you define flex?
Anything that doesn’t fix people to a 9-5, five-day week in the traditional way that excludes so many from work. It could be more creative shift patterns, flexi-time, job shares, part time, compressed hours, core hours, or as simple as allowing some employees to work different patterns. It is NOT unpaid overtime, getting four days money for five days work, or zero-hour contracts.

The overwealming evidence suggests that flex is good for everyone:

For employees to improve work-life balance, be healthier and happier, and be better able to provide for themselves and their families.

For employers to help boost productivity, talent attraction, staff retention and save on site costs.

For society to help tackle the gender pay gap, address the issue of 54,000 new mothers being forced out of work each year, and keep more taxes and skills in the economy.

What are the three strands?
As Flex Appeal has developed, we’ve come to realise that we need to work slightly differently for different groups, and Flex Appeal now has three clear strands.

For employees or those seeking work:
This is still the main bit of what we do. We shout about flex wherever we can and encourage employees to ask for it and employers to try it. The thing that has kept it going from day one has been the response – couples who have said their relationship has improved now they see more of each other, parents who have been able to work when previously they couldn’t, managers who’ve been encouraged to try it and seen great results. This part will be what we continue to do whenever we can – on social, in the media and on street corners if we have to.

Lobbying – FlexForAll:
Getting the law changed would be a major achievement, but it’s likely to take some time. So we have been working with others who know the lobbying world better than us, in a coalition called Flex For All. This includes: TUC, Fawcett Foundation, Pregnant Then Screwed, The Fatherhood Institute, Young Women’s Trust and the Fatherhood Institute.  Our goal is for a law change for ‘all jobs to be advertised as flexible from day one’. Flex Appeal is politically neutral and we’ll work with any party to try and get this done.

For employers – ‘Flexmakers’:
This is the part that has been lacking, but we hope to tackle that with our Flexmakers project (more on that below).

Do you get paid for Flex Appeal?
The vast majority or our flex-related work has been pro-bono since it began. Sometimes companies ask us in to give talks or to appear on panels. This takes time and requires preparation and we don’t believe work should be given for free. In the past we have worked with McDonald’s to fund free employment-law drop-ins for anyone who needed advice. Regus helped fund some of the early flashmobs (filming, logistics, giving people a space to meet before hand).
But the vast majority of things we do for Flex Appeal are for free. There are several reasons for this, but mostly, we don’t want to be answerable to any single organisation. Our income comes from our work as authors and journalists, brand partnerships on Instagram and Anna’s role as a broadcaster. If you want a simple way to help us with Flex Appeal, buy the book, like the #ad, tell your friends about it, push for it at work, and try flex out if you’re an employer.

What is the Flexmakers project?
For years we have been asking employers to be more open to flex. We have quoted all the stats about why it’s a good thing. But resistance remains. Now, we want to make a more human case and help employers understand how they can do it themselves.
We want to create a community of people who are willing to trial flex and report back on how it works for them, so that others might be inspired to do the same. We want managers and bosses from tiny shops to massive corporates who will be involved in changing the very fabric of working life in the UK. 
The first part of this project involves finding the people who are currently doing flex well, across various sectors and organisation sizes. We’re calling these ‘Bright Spots’. We want to find those who have taken on the challenge of flexible working and done it well. It’s not just those who have paid to enter awards (though they’re welcome too): we want examples from every size and sector that we can investigate in detail and bring out the stories that will convince others to try what they have.

Flexmakers funding
This work requires money and expertise that we don’t have. So we are working with behaviour change communications agency Claremont Communications. They will work on planning, production and day-to-day management of the Flexmakers project.
The first phase – the Bright Spots project to find 10 to 20 of the best flexible employers in the UK – is being funded by the construction firm Sir Robert McAlpine. All the fees go direct from McAlpine to Claremont. We don’t get paid by either of them or any third parties on their behalf. 

Why McAlpine?
Firstly – those people we have been speaking to seem to firmly believe in Flex Appeal. Secondly – we see some strength in this being sponsored by an organisation in such a traditionally male field, when flex is often dismissed as being ‘just for mums’. Thirdly – they have the money to help us make it happen.
Often, this kind of agreement comes down to personal relationships, and the people that we have dealt with most closely are, we believe, fully committed to using flex to shake up the industry (and the company itself). They will also hope to gain some PR benefits from this and improve their ‘employer branding’. I’m comfortable with that. McAlpine have made an important financial commitment that means this work can begin. Without it, we would continue to bang our drum hopefully on Instagram. With it, we hope we can reach (and convince) more employers.
I have no doubt that, like every organisation, McAlpine doesn’t do everything right and they are open about being a long way from where they’d like to be on flex. But we’re yet to find an organisation that does it perfectly and see something strong in having an organisation from such a historically male industry do something to support a campaign in an area that is too often dismissed as being ‘a mum thing’.

How can my organisation get involved?
If you think you might be a Bright Spot, have a look at the form here.

Matt Farquharson

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Turns out I’m not an afternoon person either.

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