Should firms be more open minded when it comes to part time working?
Short answer, absolutely. This is very much a candidate led market at the moment with candidates becoming more confident in voicing their specific needs. It might be flexible working (both in terms of the location and the core hours worked) and/or the possibility of part time. We’re noticing an increase in requests for part time working in particular, from both male and female candidates, and we do think firms in general need to shift their perspective in making this more of a possibility.
Of course, it will not be straightforward for some and adjusting well established precedents could result in unrest amongst current team members. Firms can counter this with encouraging frank conversation between employees, including prospective ones, and being open to accommodating their needs. It’s understandable that not all requests can be granted, but in a market where firms are really struggling to find people, a willingness to change could be incredibly productive. Recruitment did hit a wall for a lot of firms during the pandemic, with many imposing a freeze on all new starters. Although we do not have fully researched data as yet, based on recent experience the success of recruitment campaigns can in no small part be contingent on an employer’s approach to flexible and part time working.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ and what works for one individual won’t for another. Attorneys have various commitments that mean that part time/adjustable core hours are extremely important. This has become clear when trying to organise events, performance reviews, client meetings etc. at times that all of the team can attend. Implementing resources for remote working can help with this, removing the obstacle of differing locations or lengthy commutes. There is a danger of feeling disconnected when being away from the office, both for hybrid and part time workers. Video conferencing and other online resources reduce this dramatically, as well as firms vocalising their support for different working structures. The added flexibility of part time/reduced working hours can open up opportunities for attorneys that are fantastic at their jobs and can deliver high quality work, but cannot commit to a Monday to Friday 9 – 5.
The idea that everyone is capable of great things is important for firms to keep in mind, it is not just those who are forever present in the office who should be considered for opportunities, whether it be promotion or additional responsibilities, etc. Career progression does seem to becoming less of a driving factor when moving for a lot of the candidates we speak to. The events of the last few years have allowed some perspective on the benefits of more flexible working and a better work life balance, and also the idea that it is still possible to advance in your career away from the office. However, firms do need as much as possible, to treat attorneys equally irrespective of their working arrangements. Attorneys should not be overlooked for promotion because they are not in the office as regularly as some of their colleagues. A fair and equitable way of measuring performance should be independent of presenteeism. We are finding that some firms whilst open to remote or flexibly working, expect a career progression trade-off as part of a compromise. That is unlikely to be sustainable and firms that address this will enjoy a competitive advantage in hiring and retaining their attorneys.
- Phillipa Holland, Prinicipal Consultant