Why we built Flexa: our CEO Molly’s story

Molly Johnson-Jones, Co-founder and CEO of Flexa, shares her story of being sacked for requesting a flexible job and how she now helps others in finding them.

7th Feb 2020

I firmly believe that everybody should be able to access genuinely flexible work, and I make sure that my own team can work wherever and whenever they want. As the CEO of a business that helps workers discover flexible roles and companies, this is unlikely to come as a surprise to many of you reading this! But what was the catalyst for me and my co-founders to create Flexa in the first place, back in 2019? Well, it’s a story that’s very close to home; and an experience that means I will never, ever take the flexibility we have at Flexa for granted. 

Since the age of 18, I have lived with an autoimmune condition that can cause me pain, and leaves me unable to walk at times. My symptoms were at their very worst when I was working in a demanding investment banking role several years ago. And whilst it didn’t stop me from working, it did make commuting into an office five days a week incredibly difficult for me. 

My employer at the time claimed to be open to flexible working requests. So I asked them if I could work from home roughly one day a week, on the occasions that my symptoms flared up. My employer’s initial response was to send me to an occupational health therapist, who recommended that I register as disabled to protect me from discrimination. But it was too late. 

Within just ten days of filing my flexible working request, I was fired. A settlement package was put in front of me, and I was told to leave immediately. I was crushed. Sitting on a bench outside my office, I cried and wished that I had just tried to push through the pain, instead of asking to work from home. I was far from ready to be plunged into the murky world of job hunting that came next. 

Looking for new roles, all I wanted was to know where I could work from home one day a week. If only it was as simple, at the time, as it sounded. Job adverts sometimes made vague references to flexible work, or being ‘open’ to flexible working requests, but it was nigh on impossible to decipher what exactly this entailed, or whether companies’ claims were genuine. I had already been burnt once. Spoiler alert: I was about to be burned many, many more times. 

I found myself in jobs where I was made to feel uncomfortable for asking to work differently from the ‘norm’; in jobs where flexible working requests were only granted based on staff tenure, or ‘exceptional circumstances’; and in jobs where I was alienated when I did work beyond the office walls. Although these companies weren’t all bad, it didn’t get any easier for me to tell apart genuinely flexible employers from companies with ‘fake flexibility’ when I went back to the job hunt. I began thinking that there had to be a better way of searching for roles based on ‘how’ individuals want to work: not just based on ‘what’ jobs individuals want to do. 

I knew I couldn't be alone in my need for flexible work, and a more transparent way of finding it. Countless other workers with disabilities or different health needs rely on being able to work from home, in more accessible environments, or around different hours, in order to do their job. This group is only growing in number. Right now, record numbers of people are unable to work due to long-term illness. Workers with caring responsibilities are also often reliant on being able to fit work around school runs, or around caring for sick and elderly relatives. And the current childcare crisis means that parents need flexibility more than ever. Then there are workers who simply prefer non-traditional working environments. My co-founder, Maurice, is one of them. 

Before Flexa, Maurice had been running a team of people who were all able to work flexibly, and could see the difference it made to him and his team members. Maurice saw firsthand how giving staff the freedom to start and finish work earlier or later, and avoid stressful commutes, improved individual’s work-life balance and performance, and boosted overall retention rates at his company. If Maurice himself was going to move into a different job, he wanted to know that his next role would give him the same level of freedom and flexibility that he had before. We both needed assurance on this front, and yet we both found that we simply couldn’t find it anywhere.

To answer the need that we found ourselves with, Maurice and I created Flexa in 2019 alongside our third co-founder and CTO, Tim Leppard. We haven’t looked back since. 

Here at Flexa, we vet and verify companies’ flexible working policies to create transparency for job seekers about exactly what’s on offer. Our job is to champion truly flexible workplaces, and help job seekers discover them. Both sides are ever-growing in number. Today, we are helping to build some of the world’s biggest employer brands – like Mars UK, Virgin Media O2, TUI Group, Not On The High Street, Huel, CoppaFeel, and Elvie – and connecting them to over 2 million flexible job seekers, right here on our platform. 

It’s clear that the demand for flexible work isn’t going anywhere. Nor is the need for transparency around flexibility. New flexible working regulations give employees the right to request flexible working arrangements from their first day of employment – but employers won’t have to accommodate flexible working requests. This doesn’t bode well: according to a major new study, 3 in 10 women in the public sector have their flexible working requests turned down. 

Unfortunately, the issues I experienced all those years ago are still very much alive today. And in a world of work where every company will technically now be ‘open’ to flexible working requests, job seekers need more clarity more than ever. But it’s not just job seekers that benefit from being able to identify companies that can accommodate their working needs and preferences upfront. 

Flexa enables genuinely flexible companies to be discovered by the masses of talent seeking flexible roles. More specifically, Flexa enables flexible employers to be discovered by talent that will thrive in the exact working environment they are able to offer, leading to improved retention. 

More transparent ways of job hunting benefit everyone. That’s why Flexa is as successful as it is. And the part I am able to play in helping to create that transparency for job seekers today is why I no longer regret asking for flexibility – even though it got me sacked. Because I can see now that even while I was crying on that bench, the seeds had been planted for something much better.