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November 4, 2021

Flexible Working: Unraveling 35 Years of 9-to-5 Conditioning

Keith Jackson

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Mind Tools recently introduced flexible working. Genuinely flexible. We can work where and when we like, as long as the job gets done to deadline, to the same high standards, and with consideration for the needs of the wider team.

Two things soon became apparent. First, my already positive experience of working for Mind Tools was raised another few notches. Second, I found that in practice it just didn't feel right!

The first point is probably the most important from the company's point of view. The degree of trust it places in me and my colleagues feels good. And it seems to stem from the firm's genuine interest and engagement in our well-being. It also puts a big tick in the "plus column" of my ongoing mental logbook, "Reasons to Stay With and Do My Best for Mind Tools."

Now, I'm not kissing up to Mind Tools here. I'm a bit long in the tooth for that. A long and varied career has given me a healthy disrespect for authority, and I feel comfortable talking to my bosses about what does and doesn't work for me. And flexible working works (or is starting to!).

I can work at times that match my physical and mental energy or take appropriate timeouts when I need a bit of headspace. As for working in the evening or at the crack of dawn to make up my hours, well, that's no chore when it's a personal choice.

Bosses: Offer Flexible Working!

If you're an employee and flexible working is on offer, take it! If you're an employer, and your business can function with flexible working, then offer it! Your business may do more than function, it could absolutely thrive!

But yeah, the second point… it just didn't feel right at first! But that feeling is changing as I embrace it and get used to it.

I was always fine with occasionally grabbing an hour so out of a working day and paying it back to get to a medical appointment, for example, or to do the school run.

But, not too long ago, the weather forecast was looking good, so I let it be known a day in advance that I would be juggling my task list – no one would be inconvenienced – and I'd be taking the afternoon off to go to the beach. It felt weird declaring it. But it was just "thumbs up" and beach and sunshine emojis in response.

Don't Give in to Guilt

Even at the beach, it felt like I was AWOL! A swim in a surprisingly cold sea didn't wash away the feeling of guilt. Were my colleagues and team members actually annoyed about it? Had I misinterpreted the spirit of what flexible working is all about?

But it's all down to conditioning. For 35 years or so, I worked set hours on set days. Not always Monday to Friday, not always 9-to-5, but I had no say or flexibility. However, another trip to the beach, and a late-morning rather than evening gym session – all without furious calls of, "Where are you, Jackson?" have reduced the guilt and weirdness. Long may flexible working continue!

[Author's note: This is a lightly edited version of a piece I first posted on LinkedIn, and the reactions suggested it could be a valuable topic for discussion on the Mind Tools blog.]

What's your experience of flexible working? Did it feel strange, or did you happily jump in with both feet?

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