Flexible working is a mixed blessing
It’s hard to be against the extension of ‘flexible working arrangements’ confirmed this week by the UK government. That’s why they’re called ‘flexible’ . . . it means you’d be counting yourself as rigidly inflexible if you objected. But it seems to me to be a mixed blessing all round.
For a start it is ‘helping’ working parents (and mostly working women) on the cheap. Sure, any help is better than nothing. But what this means is that women now have the right to request that they get up really early, drop the kids off at school, go into work by 8.00, take a half hour lunch break, leave by 3.30, pick the kids up, go home, feed them, get everything ready for the next day, and collapse by 9.30.
I have not much sympathy with the wails of how expensive all this is going to be. In any case, employers have a right to refuse the request if it would be detrimental to their business to grant it.
What would help working women much more, of course, would be a lot pricier. How about some safe and reliable school buses to take kids to and from school (like what I’m observing here in the US). Or how about regular after-school, and half-term, clubs so that parents don’t have to rush to pick them up at 3.30 or 4.00.
But in truth, politically incorrect as it may sound, a bit of ‘inflexibility ‘ might not be a bad idea all round.
In those jobs where it’s feasible, the ‘9-5’ routine really has something to be said for it – indeed it was fought for as a way of avoiding exploitation. You only have to ask a university teacher to find out how (whatever its other advantages) flexi-time leads to over-time under another name.
Besides, there are two sides to this story. I don’t know how many working parents feel as frustrated as I do (no longer with school-aged kids, I confess) when they ring up an office in the only spare five minutes they have in their working day, to be told that the person they want works flexi-time and so isn’t there on Wednesday afternoon, Thursday before 11.15 or Friday from 3.30 etc etc…And no they wont answer their email either.
Another way that inflexibility might help all round is with a load of home services. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could actually get deliveries made to within even a two hour window, rather than the “best I can tell you, love, is that it will be sometime before 3.00” that you get now. Just how great would that be for working people, parents or not. How on earth most companies get away with assuming there's a woman at home to open up for for the gasman, plumber, Fedex-man, or whoever, I really dont know.
‘Flexibility’ is a bit like ‘modernisation’. Sounds nice, but sometimes conservative rigidity can be more radical.