Sarah Fleming on Work-Life Balance

This Just In

After working for a PCO (Professional Conference Organiser) in London for around 10 years, my husband and I started our family and, with my new role as a mother, I immediately found it difficult to keep up a senior role — especially with all the travel involved. My husband played his part, but we still found that when your child needs you to be there, you must be there — and not on the other side of the world. So we decided I should take a career break. This is when I discovered that work and life can have a better balance.

My career break turned out to be much shorter than I had planned. Not long after I gave up my job, I was contacted by an old client at ExCeL London and began working as a freelancer. This gave me the flexibility I needed to be a parent, so I took on more clients. Seven years later, my lead-generation business, Sarah Fleming Associates, has 18 staff and two-thirds of them work part-time. Flexible hours are the norm.

I’ve put employee flexibility, or work/life balance, at the centre of my business model, with the aim of helping women return to the workplace. When they need time off, to come in late or leave early, that’s fine, they can be where they need to be for their family, so long as they meet their targets within a set timeframe, which they always do. The benefit to the business is truly committed staff. They value the flexibility we provide, so they make the extra effort to be valuable to us.

Some may say that it’s easy for us to offer our staff flexible working hours, because the nature of our business — lead generation — makes it possible. If the world didn’t have connected technology, laptops, smartphones, and tablets, I may agree. But these technologies are here to stay and they significantly increase the options of where and when you can work.

Giving your people fairer working hours is all about attitude. If those in leadership positions want to offer their people a fairer work/life balance, they will find a way to do it. So, sometimes, for sure, you’ll need, and expect your teams to work long days, or work away from home. But they will repay you with added commitment if — when it is possible to do so — you give them the chance to live their life and be a parent. As long as the work gets done, it doesn’t always matter where or how long it takes.

I truly believe this approach is the future of work and I’m inspired by a cloud-hosting business in Manchester, UKFast, which is committed to helping its employees lead a happier, healthier life. UKFast has, among many other forward-thinking benefits, an onsite Creche, bring-your-child-to-work days, and offers 16 weeks of paid maternity leave.

I’ve heard arguments against this business model concerning costs, but I’ve found it saves us money. Again, technology is facilitating change in business. We can employ 18 people but because they’re not all always in the office, we need fewer desks, computers, phones and ultimately space. This will allow us to grow much faster as a business without so many costs — or indeed, downsize if it were ever needed, with minimal disruption.

Flexibility in the workplace is an important strategy in making sure woman can enjoy motherhood and build their careers — which means our economy retains the vital skills these women have. That is crucial, especially as many sectors complain of a skills gap. Childcare is prohibitively expensive for many wanting to return to work, and in the UK at least, there is no tax relief on childcare from government. If we are to retain and grow vital skills, while supporting the people we rely on, the business world must step in and provide a solution — flexible working hours and seeking to create a better work/life balance is it.


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