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by Louise Deverell-Smith

Have you considered asking your boss if you can work compressed hours?

Written by Olivia Bath

As we return to the offices, now is the time to determine how you can negotiate greater flexibility in your role to save on childcare costs, achieve work/ life balance and continue to progress your career.

 

There are many ways to work more flexibly and compressed hours are one of those flexible work choices which are becoming increasingly popular in the UK. 

 

Having done compressed hours myself when I returned from maternity leave in 2019 to my busy role at one of Australia’s top four banks, I can confidently recommend it.

 

So what is it exactly? Compressed hours (or you may also hear it described as a ‘compressed work week’), allows employees to ‘condense’ or compress their working week into fewer days, such as five days in four across a longer work day, or a nine day fortnight.

Alternative ways to structure a compressed working week include doing it part-time, such as four days in three; or leaving early in the afternoons for the school run and making up those hours flexibly.

There are many benefits, including saving up to £3k/year on childcare costs (for one child at nursery full time) and more quality time with your children or parents.

 

There’s also more opportunities for career progression and being paid a full time salary with less unpaid hours. Limited career opportunities and unpaid work are common challenges for those working part time. 

 

It does take time to adjust to this working pattern, but it’s possible to do it in the long term once you know how. 

 

For many women whom I speak to, they are often surprised at the hours – there’s a misconception that the working day is really long, with no free time. 

Some women I know do compressed hours of 8am to 6pm, which is what many of us already do, without the benefit of a day off each week or fortnight. 

Other misconceptions that I hear are: it sounds stressful and intense; or they don’t know if anyone else in their company does it, so they couldn’t request it. 

There are of course barriers to doing it, including feeling confident to ask for it, and your organisation being receptive to your request. According to a Harvard Business Review article, even though women ask for a pay rise, they are less likely than men for it to be granted. 

Don’t let this put you off from asking, however. I have supported women that work in companies – in fact one of the top 4 large accounting firms – that have not had a compressed work week flexible work option, but were willing to accept her business case. 

The next hurdle is then learning to adjust to doing it, from being very organised, to highly productive and communicating your schedule with stakeholders.

If you can overcome these barriers, the benefits far outweigh them. 

Maintaining a full time salary and saving on childcare fees is a financial win for women 

These include: maintaining a full time salary – over 10 years this can equate to £100,000* more in your bank account (or to use for mortgage fees or help your child at university), when compared to a part-time role of four days per week. 

 

If you start doing compressed hours in your mid-30s and you work until your late 60s, this could add up to £300,000, in addition to the savings realised for not paying for childcare on your day off. 

 

This long-term financial view is important to consider, especially when women retire on so much less than men. 

 

One of my clients, Jane Connaghan, who works in Digital Marketing has recently negotiated compressed hours. She is now saving around £3,360 per year on her son’s nursery fees and has maintained her full time salary.  

 

Jane is planning to do this for type of compressed hours for the long term, so she’s planning on saving around £10,000 over the next four years in nursery fees, plus she’s looking forward to all of the memories she will be able to create with Callan.

 

“I was actually really skeptical about doing compressed hours – I was unsure if it would be manageable from a professional and personal point of view, but I’ve since learned how to do a compressed week. I am more productive and efficient with my time and have found it easier than I thought it would be. After a few rounds of negotiation with my employer, I am now thrilled to be doing it. 

 

“What is more, I’m able to continue working in my full time role and so therefore gain opportunities to progress my career and at the same time, lead a life that works for me and my family like daily exercise and quality time with my son. It really is a win-win.”

 

Working compressed hours also affords real work/life balance

 

As Jane mentions, this type of flexible work enables you to achieve more balance and this is why it’s becoming increasingly popular with parents. 

 

It allows you to take one day off per week or fortnight to spend with your child, caring for elderly parents, or doing the personal things that matter to you, including further study or qualifications. 

 

The work/life balance juggle in a pandemic has been tougher on working parents than ever before. 

 

According to a Deloitte study, entitled, ˜Understanding the pandemic’s impact on working women, 46% of women say they have reported to have felt that they have always needed to be available for work, that is online at “off” hours like responding to emails immediately. 

 

For some working parents, returning to the office over the summer will be a welcome change and opportunity to ‘reset’.

 

This is a chance to reassess how you would like your life to look, from fitting in more exercise, setting boundaries with work and personal time (including checking emails late at night, “just in case”) or using commute times for mindfulness activities. 

 

This work/life re-assessment may also include considering a more flexible way of working.

 

If you look at it from your employer’s perspective, there are many benefits of offering flexible work options, including retaining top talent and enabling more women into leadership roles – which typically results in more profitability. 

 

There are quite a few things to consider if you’re planning on working compressed hours – but not insurmountable. Now is the perfect time to be considering this flexible work option as your employer plans for employees to return to the office. 

 

If you are considering working compressed hours, here are some practical tips to negotiate it:

  1. Develop a business case to take to your manager and HR team – even if you want to ask for this as an informal request, you may need to be prepared with things like what your request is; how it will work for your role and team; and why this request should be granted to you.
  2. Be prepared to have multiple discussions – you may need to negotiate and re-negotiate compressed hours – it can take time. This shouldn’t deter you from the long-term benefits
  3. When you are negotiating, be prepared for questions such as: ‘Should we offer this to everyone in the team?’; ‘What hours will you be working and available?’; ‘Can’t you just take it as annual leave instead?’  
  4. Consider asking for compressed hours as a 90 day trial – this gives both parties – you and your employer – the opportunity to test and see if it really works. It also gives you time to adjust to this new way of working, which does take time.

 

*According to my financial model: If you earn £40,000 p.a., then over 10 years, you can earn £100,000 more working a full time role as compressed hours, compared to a part-time role of four days per week. This includes inflation, but does not include pay rises, bonuses or career breaks.

 

If you would like to talk to Olivia about negotiating and doing compressed hours, get in touch here. 

 

Olivia is an award-winning Communications Specialist and Founder of The Women’s Vault helping to create more women in leadership and employee wellbeing programmes alongside businesses. Olivia provides one to one coaching, group coaching and corporate workshops, on topics including returning to work, confidence, negotiation, personal brand and compressed work weeks. She has written feature articles for publications including Grazia UK, Motherdom and Global Banking & Finance. Olivia has delivered workshops to companies in the UK and Australia and her clients work at companies including Deloitte, Amazon, NHS, Nuffield Health, Knight Frank and multiple law firms.

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