From June 2014 all employees , not just parents and carers, have had the legal right to request flexible working. In addition, Shared Parental Leave (new regulations allowing new parents to take shared, flexible leave at any point after the first two weeks of maternity /adoption leave) came into effect from April 2015.
Flexible working agreements can either be an alternative working pattern to the standard working hours for your role or part-time working.
If you feel that you would benefit from flexible working you can either make an informal request to your line manager or apply formally under the flexible working policy.
The business case for flexible working is strong and includes: improved morale, motivation, productivity, better staff recruitment and retention and improved organisational reputation and encouraging the sharing of caring responsibilities will ultimately result in better gender equality in the workplace.
The College is also affiliated with Working Families the UK’s leading work-life balance organisation and publicise our commitment to flexible working by using the 'Happy to talk flexible working' logo in our job adverts.
For full details including guidance for staff and managers please see the Flexible Working webpages.
Focus on Fathers
Anything we can do to challenge cultural and unconscious biases about men and work-life balance within College would be good for our community. We have more chance of achieving gender equality if caring responsibilities can be shared as this will open more opportunities for women, and is good for men too.
In order to encourage more men in College to request flexible /part-time working we have interviewed a number of senior male role models at College about their experiences bringing up children in a demanding work role and the importance they hold in flexible working both for themselves and the staff they manage.
Male College Role Models
Life as Chief Financial Officer at the College for Muir Sanderson is very demanding, but he is acutely aware of the need to work flexibly and balance his family commitments.
“I have two daughters, Hannah (16) and Eleanor (13), and my wife, Florence, works as a consultant obstetrician and Director of Specialist Services Division at Kingston Hospital. We both lead very demanding jobs and Florence is regularly on-call at the hospital at nights and weekends leaving me with sole caring responsibilities for our girls. Things have been this way since the children were born.”
“I started work at Imperial just over three years ago. Before that I worked as a management consultant for seventeen years. As a management consultant, not only are there regular trips abroad and long hours but the life is very unpredictable, you often don’t know where you will be and what you will be doing from one week to the next. Unsurprisingly, managing work life balance can be very hard and it is the main reason people leave. Early in my career there were a couple of moments that made a real difference.”
“In my very first week as a consultant, my manager, told me ‘I judge you by your outputs, not your inputs’. In the first few months, the CEO of my firm wrote a note about the importance of being clear on your priorities. That left me with two golden rules that I have tried to live by. Number one: do a good job and no one really cares how hard you worked; do a bad job and no one really cares how hard you worked. Number two: when forced to choose between family and job, always pick family.”
“The tricky bit is how to live by both these rules simultaneously. That was easy when it was just Florence and I, much harder when the girls came along. Dinner is much easier to reschedule than parent’s evening. Most of it came down to being extremely hard-nosed about how I spent my time; making no apologies for being with my family rather than in the office and then letting the results do the talking.”
“That said, there is a limit. There came a point in my old job where it was bothering me that while I was making the important family events I wasn’t making evening dinners, and when I was at home physically I often wasn’t at home mentally. At that point it was time to leave.”
“Nowadays I trust my staff and expect them to get on with it. I still believe it’s all about work outputs and I have enormous empathy with the demands of family life. It’s so important to feel in control of your own environment – if you can, you and your family will be much happier.”
Professor Steve Bloom
The opportunity for shared parental leave could really improve Imperial’s working culture and I am wholly supportive. I have been a Head of Department or Section for over 40 years and have witnessed most of the hurdles and barriers that people face pursuing a career in academia. The competitive pressure to be productive in terms of grants and research is more intense than ever but Imperial goes from strength to strength as a world-leading centre for research excellence. We are now “sex blind” in appointments, thus there are many women in the workplace with young families, producing time and financial pressures in providing good care for their families. In an equal society these pressures also fall on husbands.
Technology and connectivity has brought with it home working. Indeed when my wife returned to her Industry-based senior management position after, in those days much shorter, maternity leave I was able to work at home and help look after each of our four children in a shared care arrangement. With the help of reliable childcare, which covered the gaps in our working hours, we were both also able to prosper at work. Universities like Imperial are uniquely placed to encourage the best from our brightest minds if we can foster a culture of flexible working patterns for men and women to find the right balance for their own personal needs.
Dr Simon Hepworth
Simon Hepworth, Director of Enterprise, has a finely balanced routine as he juggles his work and childcare commitments.
“I have three young children aged 12, 10 and 4 and my wife is a teacher, which makes life a little easier during school holidays. I do the school run one or two mornings each week, meaning I get to work slightly later than usual on those days – around 09.30. This causes some difficulties however when important meetings are scheduled for 09.00 and a delegate can’t be sent in my place".
“I try to work from home whenever there are school events I need to attend, but parents evenings tend to be a bit of an issue as my wife has to attend as a teacher, meaning I have to look after the children, or we both have to attend as parents, meaning we have to make alternative arrangements. Unfortunately our family live over 200 miles away so we can’t rely on local support".
“I generally leave work by 17.30 so that I get to see the children every evening, though occasionally I do need to have dinner with a corporate sponsor. Once the kids have gone to bed though I do get back to work –putting in these hours is essential at times".
“Many of my staff live outside of London and often it is much more productive for them to work from home a day a week rather than spend time and energy in the long commute. I trust my staff to produce the output and to make the right choices on when to be in the office and when to work from home. It is clearly important to be in the office for key team meetings and client visits. Since working from home tends to lead to better performance, I’m yet to turn down a flexible working request. In fact, all my team work flexibly and not necessarily for childcare reasons.”
Professor John Kilner
Working as an academic can be a varied and challenging lifestyle, but Professor John Kilner appreciates the flexible arrangements and support provided by the College.
“I was a Post Doc at Leeds University when we had Joseph, our first son. My wife was an academic too but since she was unable to find a job at the time she was at home. We moved to London when I was employed first as a Research Fellow at the College, then as a lecturer in the Department of Materials".
“My wife decided to retrain as a dentist but her workplace didn’t have any childcare facilities, and since Imperial had its nursery, I became responsible for the drop off and pick up. Back then lectures didn’t start until 09.30 so things weren’t that rushed and you had time to settle your child in, which made a big difference for us".
“We chose a primary school in South Kensington so I could continue to drop off and pick up Joseph. I would get to the school at 15.30 and bring him to the nursery where there was an after school scheme operating until 17.30 when I would take him home. Even though it was hard work organising it all, it meant I got to spend additional time with my children, which was very special".
“The nursery is certainly a jewel in Imperial’s crown and has helped so many academics at the College. When I was Head of the Department I became Chair of the Day Nursery Committee, so have always been a big supporter of it and its activities.
“When we had our daughter Julia my wife was working as a lecturer in paediatric dentistry and both of us were leading extraordinarily busy lives. I was very lucky to have a very amenable Head of Department who was completely understanding and emphasised that it was about the quality, timescale and output of my work - it’s all about being able to deliver and being judged on performance".
“As a manager, if you want your staff to be happy and productive you need to have a flexible approach. My advice to new parents would be to be intelligent about how you run your life. It won’t harm your career and you’ll gain so much from seeing your family. It’s also worth speaking to others who have been through it all before so you can learn all those much-needed tips".
Professor Jordan Nash
Professor Nash is a Head of Department.
I had my first son Pavel as a young lecturer 20 years ago. Although I didn’t have much leave, I had supportive management. When my partner fell ill and I had to take time off, my Head of Group and Head of Department were both very understanding, something that I really appreciated.
With the change of having a young family, there needed to be a change in my work-life balance. Fortunately, most academics are able to readjust their lifestyles as the job is pretty well suited to this. I do think previously it has been harder for women as many may have felt under pressure to take more time off work. I know of many senior women who have worked part-time while their children were young.
Nowadays a lot of staff work from home occasionally, but are still able to get their jobs done by making use of modern technology. A lot of our staff work overseas so remote working is something that clearly can work. Flexible working and technology are means that I hope will help staff to cope with the demands of parenting young children.
I had my second child Anya 15 years ago while I was doing a fellowship overseas. I was carrying out research on a full-time basis, but at Stanford there wasn’t a long commute, and since I didn’t do any teaching I was able to schedule taking care of the children when necessary.
I work in high energy physics and was on a secondment at CERN for several years while the children were growing up. This was a very family friendly place with an on-site nursery and very little time spent commuting, which was a great help.
My third child Rocco was born just 6 months ago and I only took 2 weeks off work. Becoming a new parent while working as a Head of Department has been interesting! My wife is an architect and self-employed, and we’re currently waiting for a place at College nursery. I’ll be using public transport to do the drop- offs and pickups since I can control the diary for many of my meetings in the department, but College meetings can cause an issue as timings aren’t as flexible.
Sleep deprivation has been difficult as a new Head of Department. I avoid going to many of the social events and tend to just go to and then leave early. I’d like to stay but you have to make choices when you have a baby and I like the time I spend at home.
One important thing to know is that it’s only for a limited number of years that you have to be innovative and flexible in making things work for you.
Professor Andrew Parry
Professor Parry is a College Consul.
I attended an unconscious bias training session in College recently and am very aware of both the conscious and unconscious biases that exist around flexible working. It will be harder for us to effectively tackle gender inequality while men and women ( and especially managers) still make negative judgements about men requesting flexible working. Fear of these judgements and a view that flexible working equates with not being serious or committed to their career has no place in the College community.
I have had many years of management experience of staff with caring responsibilities and I have always supported requests for flexible working. We need to embrace the shift from traditional working to flexible working where output should be measured rather than physical attendance when this is not essential. Imperial cannot afford to be complacent in this area and indeed embedding a flexible work culture will give us a strategic advantage.