Flexible working - a personal story
7th Feb 2020
This is a reasonably personal blog post for me, but I know how personal flexible working can be for people. That might sound silly to some people – how can a working pattern have an emotion attributed to it?
When work, and work-related tasks, take up the majority of our waking hours, I think that the way we work is innately personal. Through the many coffees and chats with people on the journey to launching our job platform so far, I’ve heard some pretty remarkable stories from people who feel the same way too. (Maybe I should do a blog series about that?) Some stories are awful: a new mother with a flexible working arrangement being forced to come into the office every day or lose her job. Some stories are remarkably good: someone learning to cope with the complexities of mental health issues by finding some day-to-day balance.
My experience was at the remarkably bad end of the spectrum. I was early in my career, and working in investment banking. Hours were long, as you’d expect, and I was finding it hard to manage my autoimmune disease.
My illness isn’t terribly severe, but occasionally I struggle with mobility as my hands and feet swell up, my joints ache, and I feel like getting out of bed is as physically challenging as going for a run.
I was taking time off when I couldn’t get into the office, so I asked to work from home one day a week given that I was perfectly able to get my work done at home. They allowed it on the condition that I went to an occupational health professional to be assessed. In my young naivety, I thought that they had my best interests at heart. The doctor advised that I be registered disabled to protect me from discrimination, and the report was sent back to my employer.
Two days later, they sacked me. I was told I was underperforming. I wasn’t the right fit. I wasn’t good enough.
I was devastated, taking everything to heart because I was 23 and I trusted their opinion. I genuinely believed that this was unconnected to my illness and need for flexibility. Fast forward a few hours, after a few conversations with lawyers, and I realized that of course it was connected.
I needed something from my employer and that meant I didn’t fit their idea of a hyper-productive, model employee. However, I was more productive, happier, and more balanced at home. I know that this is the same for so many people – it’s not always about being given one day at home per week, but it’s about how we can make work work for us.
In some ways I benefitted, as one can do from discriminatory employment practices, but I look back on that event and I realise how much it affected me. It affected my confidence, my belief in my own ability, and it made me scared to talk about my illness with anyone at work. This meant that I would take days off sick when my symptoms flared up, rather than working in a way that suited me. My mental health suffered too, as I felt isolated and like I was lying to so many people.
I still have a niggling thought in the back of my mind that I overreacted to the whole thing and of course no one wants an employee with an autoimmune disease… but then I remind myself that I know I can do a lot, I can give a lot, and I am good at my job.
Once I overcame the fear of asking to work from home, I realized that many companies are progressive in their policies, and do want to accommodate their employees. Being able to work flexibly enabled me to do a “normal” job, even with a chronic illness, and for that I am exceptionally grateful.
This whole experience made us want to start Flexa. No one should have to feel trapped, or that they’re not good enough, or like they’re less productive than they could be working in another way.
There doesn’t need to be a big story behind it – you could just feel like your happiness would benefit from a different working pattern, or you hate commuting on a busy Wednesday – everyone deserves some freedom when we all work so hard.
So, given that we are in the early phases of launching, please do share this with anyone that has a story about flexible working. I’d love to speak to them, or help them to find a job that gives them a bit of a better balance. Otherwise, if your employer has progressive working policies then invite them to post their jobs on Flexa (for free at the moment!)
Sign up here: https://flexa.careers/signup