"I wasn't allowed to work flexibly, even after finding out I had a serious blood clot"

#NormaliseFlexibleWork

11th Mar 2021

Hi there! As part of our campaign to #NormaliseFlexibleWork we are publishing a series of interviews with brilliant people for whom flexible working is key to success.

We believe that flexible working should be for everyone, but there are still dated perceptions and stigmas around flexible working that we desperately want to shift. Without offering flexible working to everyone, we can’t achieve true equality as there will be a “normal” way of working for most people and those who can’t work “normally” will be treated differently and “othered”.

Today we are delighted to be featuring Morgan Young, a Business Analyst and Product Manager whose shocking story of being denied flexible work shows exactly why flexible working needs to be normalised.

Can you introduce yourself and what you do (professionally and for fun!)?

I’m Morgan. For the past few years I’ve worked as a Business Analyst and Product Manager across the SaaS, FinTech and EdTech spaces. I love making tech products better for their users and un-muddling complex business problems. 

Away from work, I’m involved in a lot of fitness and competitive sports stuff. I’ve been a qualified personal trainer (although I don’t work as one anymore) for the past 7 years and have coached Olympic weightlifting internationally. 

Why does flexible working matter to you?

Back in 2019 I had just started a Business Analyst job as a short term contractor for a company in London. I’m based in Cambridge and that meant a door to door commute of about 2 hours each way, but I’d just been made redundant from a startup so I needed the work and the attractive day rates they pay in the city for short contracts made it worthwhile, so I jumped at it.

Unfortunately, just two weeks into that job I became pretty seriously unwell pretty quickly. After shrugging off my (relatively mild) symptoms for a few days, I decided on the train back home that I’d get a medical opinion that night, just to be safe. Five hours later I was in A&E with them having found a blood clot in my neck.

After all the hospital stuff over a few days, it was clear that I wasn’t going to be able to travel to London and back each day to work. The recruiter that I got the contract through was, to be fair, amazing. They were incredibly understanding and willing to wait until I was well enough to travel again, as were the company themselves, but that wasn’t going to be any time soon. Unfortunately, working from home wasn’t an option and I had to give up the contract. That meant I ended up in the not very enviable position of having a couple of short tenures and a gap on my CV (something that stereotypically looks bad, right?), but I guess that just reinforces that there can be more to the CV than meets the eye.

What has flexible working allowed you to do? Or what has a lack of flexibility stopped you from doing?

Recently, I’ve been able to work from home since March last year which has been amazing and my current company have been so good about balancing work life/home life/physical health/mental health etc. I think that really speaks to the sort of company they are. 

Lack of flexibility, apart from the obvious that I spoke about earlier, hasn’t stopped me doing anything major but has been a pretty constant source of annoyance over the years. Everyone knows how difficult it is to schedule things like medical appointments and when you’re told “you need to provide two week’s notice for that” or even a company I was at making c.50 people redundant telling us “you can go for interviews but need to work the time back in the evenings”, it’s just archaic.

Do you think that flexible working has historically been a female thing? If so, why? Or if not, why not?

Yes I do, but it’s purely anecdotal based on the companies I’ve worked in. That being said, there are some stats here that paint a similar picture. Needless to mention, I think everyone should be able to work in a way that best suits them.

What has your experience been with accessing flexible working?

Generally, pretty bad. Often when I’ve asked about working flexibly it’s often been met with suspicion or the old chestnut of “we can’t set a precedent”, which is total rubbish and if anything I think companies should be setting precedents that it is okay for you to do things in a way that best facilitates you producing your best work. My current company is an exception to that and I’m very grateful for that!

What do you think needs to change in terms of working environments? 

Everyone may be talking about flexible working, but I don’t think everyone is talking about the meaningful parts of flexible working. I’ve worked at the startups with pool tables, free snacks, even baristas and free breakfasts, but flexible working (to me) isn’t about that nor is it about working from home. For me, flexible working is about being able to work in the way that suits you best, for whatever reason, be it a medical emergency or just because you’re more productive at 6am. I don’t think that starts with a company wide implementation of a defined flexible working policy either, but means employers have to start listening and adapting to the individual circumstances of the people on their teams. Many are doing this though, which is awesome. 

This is obviously a nuanced issue and many people may prefer to work in the office and in close physical proximity to the rest of their team, which is great too! There has to be a mutual fit and it’s an employer’s right to say yes/no to flexible working, just as the onus is on the employee to find somewhere that aligns with their values on this kind of stuff.

I think the key change we need to see is people being allowed to work in the way that best suits them, rather than what (let’s be honest, very arbitrary) policy may dictate.

What do you think has the biggest impact on flexible working uptake?

Aside from the obvious events of the past year, I think the companies who have made flexible working a big deal have had a huge impact on the uptake of it more widely within their industries. If you’re a competitive company looking for exceptional talent, but they want to start work two hours earlier and you won’t let them, there are absolutely loads of competitors who will take those people, let them start earlier and reap the benefits of their more productive and flexible work day. 

It’s sort of the same thing that happened with dress code. I haven’t worked anywhere in the past few years (luckily) that enforced a strictly formal dress code. In my experience, “smart casual” or “whatever you want” dress codes are now the standard (in tech anyway) and I can see flexible working taking a similar trajectory.