Being flexible. The career implications of changing patterns of work

About the author

Heather leads the CIPR public affairs diploma and digital communication diploma courses. PhD, BSc, PG, RSA, CAM  

Our regular Ask Dr Heather Yaxley feature this month addresses questions regarding the career implications of flexible working approaches.  

Q. Looking at the latest PRCA PR Census report, I recognised the long-hours culture it presents. I want to build my career with my employer, but would like to explore options for greater flexibility in my working hours. Is this feasible?

Before making a formal request for flexible working, it is a good idea to discuss with your manager how you could adapt your current position. Could you work compressed hours, working your contracted hours over fewer days? Would an annual hours contract be more suitable for the role? What about flexitime, staggered hours or home working to offer you greater flexibility?

If you would like to work fewer hours, consider how your role could be revised. Is some reorganisation possible, allowing you to take on more focused or specialist responsibilities? Would you like to undertake particular projects as an employed consultant? Could you offer flexibility in covering peak times, holiday periods, or out of normal working hours?

Be clear about your competencies, career ambitions and the contribution that you will make as a result of greater flexibility in your working hours. Demonstrate your commitment to delivering a focus on quality and performance. Develop a role description detailing scope of responsibilities and outcomes. This will help you emphasise your value in terms of productivity and measurable achievements, which will be important in securing agreement as well as future appraisals and career discussions.

Q. My employer is investigating introducing a mandatory four-day week, but is working part-time compatible with building a successful career?

There are lots of patterns of flexible working that fit well into PR/communications careers. Working from home is the most common option among those in senior roles. However, it is likely that this relates to greater acceptance of working away from the office, rather than any reduction in time commitment.

The idea of a four-day week is gaining some momentum, and has been adopted successfully at Radioactive PR. This switch is not without difficulties though. After extensive internal consultation, the Wellcome Trust concluded recently that a four-day week was “too operationally complex to implement”.

Generally a four-day week across the organisation is intended to offset a cut in working hours by increasing productivity. This differs from part-time working where roles are designed to fit within a particular number of hours or days each week.

In either case, what is important is your ability to develop your skills, knowledge and performance in a four-day role, enabling you to evidence your experience and capabilities when making subsequent career moves.

Q. My work history is a mix of moves, interim appointments, freelance experience, time away from paid jobs, voluntary roles and part-time employment. Even though I have many years of experience and a professional qualification, I don’t feel like I’ve had a career. How can I help recruiters to recognise my strengths to secure employment in a full-time communications role?

Your CV/resumé reflects a patchwork career, which is more common than you may think. Indeed, a successful modern PR/communications career is highly unlikely to involve a simple ordered sequence of progression of upward mobility within a single organisation.

Recruiters increasingly find a variety of experience, knowledge, competence and flexibility more appealing than a linear career history. In fact, someone who has spent a long time in a particular role may be viewed as having reached a career plateau rather than demonstrating an ability to be flexible and a self-improver.

There are two things that you can do to reinforce the attractiveness of a patchwork career with recruiters.

1. Craft your career narrative.

The life design approach to career development, proposed by Savickas, encourages people to see themselves as authors, and identify autobiographical themes, patterns and stories in their work experience. These can be crafted into a narrative life portrait that helps to illuminate and illustrate what I call a career tapestry.

Craft a coherent thread of functional expertise, underpinned by an evidence base of facts, data and examples. This is important for interviews. You can also ensure your LinkedIn profile conveys your career tapestry through original posts, curated content and positive recommendations.

2. Present a targeted, functional CV/resumé

Avoid the traditional chronological list of job title, employer and date of employment for your CV/resumé, LinkedIn profile and job applications where possible. Instead, you should select information from your career tapestry to highlight projects roles, competencies and professional accomplishments.

It is best practice to produce a customised CV/resumé when targeting specific roles or employers. This involves mirroring relevant language and emphasising your strengths and abilities that best match the role requirements.