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Flexible Hiring Is the New Holy Grail So Could It Become the Norm Any Time Soon?

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Flexible Hiring Is the New Holy Grail So Could It Become the Norm Any Time Soon?

This article was first published on PR Week, 18 June 2015. Read original article here.

Research suggests that PR and comms are among the worst industries for offering staff flexible working conditions at the point of hire. Just two per cent of all vacancies in PR, marketing and advertising mentioned flexible working, according to the Timewise Flexible Jobs Index, the first study of its kind, which studied 3.5 million job ads across 122 national jobs boards between July and December 2014 to arrive at its findings.

The frenetic 24/7 world of PR and comms has begun to change its attitude towards flexible working opportunities for employees who ask for it, largely thanks to legislation that requires all employers to consider these requests, which came into force last June.

But it is clear from the Timewise study that the industry has barely begun to consider ‘flexible hiring’ e.g. offering candidates the chance to work flexibly in adverts for job vacancies.

There is a clear hunger among PR and comms professionals for this culture to change. A PRWeek poll found that, of those who responded, more than 90 per cent thought flexible working should be offered in job descriptions.

The Timewise study uses Office for National Statistics data to show that, across all industries, the demand for flexible working opportunities vastly outstrips supply, with 5.4 million people working part-time through choice while a further 8.7 million want flexible working but do not have that opportunity.

For some employees, according to Timewise, flexibility is as important as the salary and benefits package on offer and if it is not available, it is likely to be a deal-breaker.

Geographically, London – where 120 of PRWeek’s ‘Top 150’ agencies are based – is among the worst performing regions for flexible hiring, perhaps due to the wider talent pool available, while Scotland offers the most opportunities.

But what is the effect of this unmet need on an industry that appears to be struggling to adapt to modern working life and has, so far, failed to jettison the image of rigid hours and presenteeism?

Timewise chief executives and report authors Karen Mattison (pictured above) and Emma Stewart say: "Employers are cutting themselves off from a proportion of the candidate market by not stating their openness to flexibility in their recruitment advertising. These ‘lost’ candidates include some of the very best available talent."

According to Anita Hamilton (pictured above), director of the Women in Leadership programme and a consultant with CTN Communications, one problem with changing the culture of the industry is that, although flexible working conditions are becoming more prevalent for employees who ask for it, progress is hampered by the fact that too few men are taking up the option.

If men in top management positions disregard the opportunity, then younger men will do the same, perpetuating a prejudice that people who want flexibility are less committed to their jobs.

She says: "By changing the behaviour of men in the workplace you normalise flexible working and the results are evident in terms of better retention and loyalty across the organisation."

A Timewise survey of 1,000 people last year bears this out. It found that 52 per cent of people seeking a flexible job would feel nervous about asking for it if the word was not used in a job advert and 43 per cent feared it would harm their chances of getting the job if they asked for it.

Hamilton thinks the advent of social media – and the reputational risks for clients and in-house teams that are derived from them – has fuelled the culture of presenteeism with PR bosses and comms directors only feeling in control when they see staff in the office.

"We all check emails and social media constantly to monitor stories and work projects. So there’s no need to be in the office 9-6 daily". Anita Hamilton, director of the Women in Leadership programme.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Hamilton says: "There needs to be a serious culture change. The availability of systems and the technology to allow people to work remotely and be in constant contact with the office is in use across the comms industry. We all check emails and social media constantly to monitor stories and work projects. So there’s no need to be in the office 9-6 daily."

The research includes an analysis by salary band that shows flexible hiring is even less prevalent as people climb the career ladder, with six per cent of all jobs surveyed in the £20,000-